Innovating in a digital world

Universities worldwide must become more essential players in digital innovation (DI) and artificial intelligence (AI) and increase their capacity to support the “responsible” development and use of these technologies, a new UdeM-led report says.

In its position paper – The Innovative University: Renewing the Role of Universities in the Digital Innovation and Artificial Intelligence Ecosystem – UdeM worked with 12 other universities to lay out digital opportunities and challenges in higher education.

They explore the different ways in which universities can change the future of DI and AI and how these might transform the world of universities, offering concrete examples of innovative and inspiring academic practices along for major themes.

“With this position paper, we hope to stimulate international dialogue, given that universities will need to be creative and energetic as they face the coming digital wave,” said co-author Catherine Régis, an UdeM law professor and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy.

The report is an outgrowth of the first U7+ summit, held in Paris alongside the July 2019 G7, that brought together nearly 50 university leaders from 18 countries on all continents to develop a common agenda for university action on global challenges.

Four approaches and several recommendations

Catherine Régis

Credit: Amélie Philibert

In four sections, the authors look at:

  • how universities can capitalize on their status as trust brokers and engage with civil society and other stakeholders on issues of responsible innovation;
  • how the processes governing university research should be transformed to bolster safeguards and standards in the age of big data;
  • how university education should be modernized to give students greater competency to innovate in technology;
  • and how universities can use DI and AI themselves to rethink current processes, develop e-learning and elaborate new business strategies.

Among other things, the report recommends that:

  • universities should develop competency-based training to foster links between social-and-human-sciences (SHS) and STEM trainees and researchers, including in industry;
  • universities and, more broadly, public research centres should develop an explicit strategy to harness the potential of public and open data for DI&AI research;
  • universities should collaborate to develop innovative online and on-campus courses and programs to increase digital literacy, adaptability and resilience in students and workers;
  • and universities should create knowledge exchange forums and online courses on DI and AI, tailored to different university players (e.g. researchers, CIOs or employees).

‘Enthusiasm and concern’

Jean-Louis Denis

Credit: Production multimédia CHUM

“DI & AI trigger enthusiasm and concern in all universities, according to their specific realities,” said Régis, who led the initiative with Jean-Louis Denis, an UdeM professor of health policy and management and Canada Research Chair on Health System Design and Adaptation.

“There is a clear need for universities to think collectively and act. Standing still in face of the DI & AI wave is not an option for universities: the question is not if universities should adapt but how,” she said.

“There is clear added value in sharing best academic practices on an ongoing basis to enable swift action and to build on existing strengths rather than reinventing the wheel each time, and universities are enthusiastic about collaborating in this way,” said Régis.

“The DI&AI Academic+ Network proposed in our position paper – a new entity designed to promote cooperation between universities, public agencies, firms and civil society organizations – is an opportunity to formalize this collaboration.”

About the report

The Innovative University: Renewing the Role of Universities in the Digital Innovation and Artificial Intelligence Ecosystem, co-authored by Catherine Régis and Jean-Louis Denis, can be downloaded here. The other authors at UdeM are: senior advisor Réjean Roy, post-doctoral fellow Cécile Petitgand, and Sébastien Roy, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research.

The other 12 institutions involved in drafting the report include: in Canada, UdeM-affilated Polytechnique Montréal; in France, École Polytechnique, Paris-Saclay, HEC Paris, Université de Lyon, Université Grenoble Alpes, Université Côte d’Azur, Université de Bordeaux and Aix-Marseille Université; in the United Kingdom, Imperial College London and University College London; in India, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay; and in Japan, Osaka University.

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