Future of higher ed takes centre stage at Delphi Economic Forum


President Alice Gast speaking at the Delphi Economic Forum

Imperial’s President Alice Gast joined Heads of State as well as leading industrialists and thinkers at the sixth Delphi Economic Forum.

The annual conference took place in hybrid format from Athens, Greece, with major themes including the Global Economy, Technology and the Future of Growth, Sustainability and Climate Change, and Geopolitics & International Security.

President Gast talked about the growing importance of technology in delivering education – for example through remote laboratory experiments – which can also open up opportunities for collaborative teaching, involving students from around the world. 

Also representing Imperial at the conference were Professor Chris Hankin, Fellow of the Institute for Security Science and Technology, Professor Anna Korre, Co-Director of the Energy Futures Lab from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering and Professor Vassilios Papalois from the Department of Surgery and Cancer.

Education in the post-COVID era 

Professor Gast took part in a discussion on ‘Re-imagining education in the post COVID era,’ alongside Athanasios-Meletios Dimopoulos, Rector at the University of Athens.

We have to think about how to combine technology with the value of in-person teaching; what can we do to make the best use of our time together, using technology to be more effective in person? Professor Alice Gast President of Imperial College London

Professor Gast started by noting how universities have been drivers of innovation during the pandemic, both in terms of public health research and vaccine development, but also in the way they deliver teaching. They have leveraged digital and virtual technologies as well as devising remote research opportunities and ‘lab-in-box’ experiments. Going forward, though, she stressed the importance of a hybrid approach to teaching: “We have to think about how to combine technology with the value of in-person teaching; what can we do to make the best use of our time together, using technology to be more effective in person?” 

Professor Gast also pointed out that such a hybrid model actually unlocks opportunities for collaboration in education – across geographical boundaries and across the age spectrum of potential students. She noted that the University of Athens is Imperial’s largest collaborator in Greece, co-authoring 770 joint, high-impact publications in the past five years. Yet the two institutions do little together on the education front. 

This is set to change following the launch of a major transnational education support programme, with the British Council Greece, the British Embassy in Athens and the Greek Ministry of Education, which will support collaborations between UK and Greek universities. This might entail developing joint and dual degrees, distance learning, summer programmes, academic and student exchanges, or other learning opportunities. 

In a rapidly changing digital world, the panel also discussed how continuing education is becoming a necessity, rather than an option. “A great education prepares you not just for your first job, but for your second, third and fourth job and gives you an ability to keep on learning and to follow new trends as they come along,” Professor Gast said.

She also noted that the students of the future will come from different parts of the world and the importance of preparing for that shift. “By 2035, countries from sub-Saharan Africa will be the rapidly growing ones, and as we look at our ability to reach new and different audiences, universities have to think about how they use technology, how they collaborate, and how they develop the ability to teach older students and students from all over the world.”

Data privacy and cybersecurity

Imperial’s Professor Chris Hankin took part in an engaging discussion session around ‘Data privacy and cybersecurity,’ alongside figures from industry and law and regulation.

Professor Hankin noted that, with the rapid emergence of the Internet ofA software developer uses a tablet Things, systems are increasingly becoming ‘cyber-physical’ as opposed to just being simply conventional IT systems. While such cyber-physical systems have been with us for some time, they are increasingly under threat. “Certainly over the last year we’ve seen an increasing threat, both to researchers developing vaccines and other areas related to the pandemic, but also to hospitals and healthcare delivery.”

For companies and organisations in the UK, Professor Hankin underlined the importance of the National Cyber Security’s ‘Cyber Essentials’ programme, which helps them guard again attacks.

The panel also looked at some of the issues around personal health data in an age where many people use fitness and health tracking wearable devices of various kinds. 

“There’s been a lot of press over the years about loss of credit card details, but health data takes that to a whole new level: it’s much more valuable [than credit card details] on the dark web as it opens up possibilities of identity theft and blackmail. If one takes some basic cyber hygiene measures, that will defeat the vast majority of petty [cyber] crime.”

The transition to a sustainable, digital future

The conference was opened by Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of Greece, who noted the importance of “participation in a strong union of advanced states, such as the EU, in a world of asymmetric globalisation”. The opening session also featured keynote speeches and debates, including from Kersti Kaljulaid, who has been President of Estonia since 2016 and has overseen a complete digital transformation of the public sector in the country – with virtually all government services moving online.

She was followed by Zuzana ?aputová, President of Slovakia, who noted that the country she leads was the first in the EU to commit to ‘climate neutrality’ by 2050; though she cautioned that the transition to a greener, more sustainable economic model needs to be a “just and inclusive transition”.

Other notable speakers at the conference included John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and former Secretary of State; Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain; Jean-Claude Juncker, former President of the European Commission; Donald Tusk, former President of the European Council; and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics (Columbia University).


Andrew Czyzewski

Andrew Czyzewski
Communications Division

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Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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