Post-industrial cities & multidisciplinary research and teaching

Why do post-industrial societies require a different educational approach? Prof. Ivan Koprić argues that a monodisciplinary approach falls short in addressing complex urban transitions. UNIC has a historical opportunity to create a new multidisciplinary education model that comprehensively responds to challenges of renewing our European post-industrial cities.

By Ivan Koprić

Post-industrial cities are cities in transition from industrial type of production, work, social structure, culture, urban organisation, city management, and educational needs to post-industrial. They change simultaneously with the wider societal restructuring, transition and transformation that have occurred during the last several decades. The term post-industrial was first coined by American sociologist Daniel Bell in his book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society published in 1973.  


Post-industrialism means transition from manufacturing of goods to provision of services, continuous replacement of blue-collar workers with white-collar employees, grater ethical concern about environment protection and the quality of urban life, change from modern to post-modern values (post-materialism, diversity, participation, gender, etc.), the rise of new research interests and disciplines at universities, including artificial intelligence, sustainable, smart and green cities, postmodern culture and art, participatory urban governance, diversity and gender studies, information science, environmental studies, design of modern public governance institutionsand the like. Post-industrial transition has enabled new scientific revolutions and technological innovations in natural and technical sciences, medicine, lawand social sciences. It has also spurred diversity of applied sciences.  


At the very beginning of the post-industrial process, such a comprehensive transformation of post-industrial cities imposed a sharp adaptation of scientific research and university teaching efforts upon universities rooted in the post-industrial context. Moreover, it has required fast and continuous development and refinement of study programmes and research strategies, and their approximation to ever more precisely defined urban and societal demands 


The basic orientation and content of study programmes and research plans have been affected by the post-industrial context. Therefore, they need to become interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, i.e. they need to combine a variety of approaches and contributions to be able to respond to such complex notions as green and smart city, sustainable, cohesive and knowledge-based city, quality of urban life, community arts and cultural development, power-sharing and participatory governance, good urban management, managing diversity, etc.  


Urban renewal, city agriculture, vertical gardens, parks and green spaces, sports and recreation, pets, integrated city transport, nature-friendly house construction, reducing air pollution, noise reduction, environment protection, healthy food production, dealing with visual and built environment, co-creating culture, community art, urban safety, organisation of city data, virtual and augmented reality and their usage for various purposes, are but some of the themes and buzz words in translating complex post-industrial concepts and principles to the reality of university activities, be they research, knowledge transfer or teaching.  


Furthermore, the teaching and learning methods have been affected, with a new focus on learning by doing, real case solving, clinical approach, exchange with experts not formally tied to universities, etc.  


The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe in its important document European Urban Charter II: Manifesto for a new urbanity adopted in 2008 gave a refreshed view of the modern European cities, responding to the developments in the period after adoption of the first European Urban Charter in 1992. In the 2008 Manifesto, the Congress mentioned de-industrialisation as one of the main bases of social, economic, and urban changes that need to be taken into account in new European urban policy. The Congress sees the cities as “the ideal setting for the knowledge-based economy which is the future of economic growth in Europe”. There is no need to explain the importance of universities as an actor in such type of the economy.  


The European Union plays an active role in post-industrial urban transition and renaissance by establishing a number of initiatives and putting a strong emphasis and funding priority themes on European cities – digital and energy transitions, circular economy, air quality and climate adaptation, urban mobility and accessibility, sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions, urban poverty, housing, inclusion of migrants and refugees, and others. In tackling these themes all types of knowledge produced by universities are not only welcome but essential. 


The renaissance of European post-industrial cities and, more generally, the post-industrial context, have already been recognized as a part of the relevant research and studying context by many European universities, at least to some extent. For the eight universities forming the new European University of Post-Industrial Cities (UNIC), taking part in designing knowledge-based economy, searching for innovative solutions for resolving issues connected with the new European urbanity, and fuelling urban development on the principles of sustainable, smart, digital and green cities is not just an ordinary task.  


It is a historical opportunity to establish a model of cooperation in teachingresearch, and common preparation of study programmes in all scientific fields, including natural, technical, social, and applied sciences, as well as arts and culture. Academic cooperation of eight universities will go hand in hand with solving real urban problems and offer innovative solutions for urban developmental needs. Such a complex collaborative university-to-university and university-to-city endeavour will create a synergy necessary for going beyond individual city and country borders and enable a truly European knowledge transfer 


The overall result will be new model based on the comprehensive university response to the challenges of European post-industrial cities in correspondence with contemporary expectations of European citizens. By participating in the creation of that new model, all our university departments, faculties and academies, from electrical and civil engineering through architecture and agriculture to medicine and humanities will be able to make substantial steps forward in achieving a better future 

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