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The Dean and Rector of ESCP’s Berlin campus, Professor Andreas Kaplan, thinks Universities across Europe could show the path toward a human and sustainable way of digital transformation.

I am constantly thinking about how students need to be prepared and trained in a globalized and digitalized environment increasingly coined by artificial intelligence (AI), big data, or the Internet-of-Things. As the World’s First Business School, established in 1819, ESCP is currently celebrating its bicentenary. As such, our mission is once again to inspire and educate tomorrow’s business leaders worldwide. But how should universities, business schools, and higher education in general prepare their students for this digital (r)evolution?

Andreas KaplanFirst, digitalization needs to enter the classroom and its influence on business and society at large needs to be discussed and analysed. Every student needs to master basic digital vocabulary and have a clear picture of the future challenges and opportunities triggered by digitalization. Coding, data manipulation and the like should be part of any program’s curriculum. ESCP has been offering such courses for several years now.

Second, a strong interdisciplinary approach, such as the one taught by ESCP at its very beginning, is increasingly recognized as important. Students need to be introduced to a variety of different topics and disciplines. They need to learn to go into more depth by themselves in case such knowledge may be needed in a future job. Tasks and requirements will change and evolve regularly, leading to the need for people to engage in a life-long learning process. Instead of professors providing students with content to be memorized, students need to be trained on how to find the relevant content autonomously.

Europe should be the advocate for human and sustainable digitalization

Europe faces at least two additional challenges: First, European companies tend to invest less in innovation than, for example, their American counterparts do. Yet, innovation is the main answer to and driver of change. Universities across Europe need to encourage students to thrive for innovation, even disruption, and to see potential failures as a step toward success. Second, whoever has access to the biggest data pool is potentially best placed to win the race in the development of AI. However in Europe, it could be argued that stricter data protection regulations currently slow down its digital development compared to China or the US.

In this respect, a general awareness of the increasing trend toward digitalization’s bigger societal impacts needs to be created. In all likelihood, many workers will lose their jobs and will be replaced by automation and robotics. This doubtlessly will create enormous challenges for any future society. Students need to be conscious of these changes and ensure they are able to contribute to a sustainable and equitable world in which everybody has his or her place in society. Europe, which often prides itself on its humanistic values, may potentially have found its niche —maybe even its calling— in the digital race, which is currently led by other regions in the world. ESCP Business School definitely has this on its agenda as it enters its third century of existence.