In today’s blog post, we asked Gregor Cerinsek (IRI UL) on his perspectives how University of Ljubljana aims to expand its role in the urban community through the UCITYLAB project. 

We live in the age of turbulence. The world is changing and it changes faster and faster, especially due to the exponential growth of technology. The digital transformation is happening so fast that human brains are not even capable to understand it. This rapid progress produces serious challenges which demand action from all of us. The fact is that the majority of people is not against the technological development. However, we should think about and discuss what could happen if we do not think about the consequences of this exponential growth on our society and humanity.

These challenges should affect our education system on all levels and demand for new interactive forms of teaching and learning. Problem is that university education is still mainly based on ex-cathedra lectures and one-directional knowledge passing where students have passive roles. Different faculties are furthermore focusing solely on their narrow academic fields, which leads to lack of communication and cooperation, especially between engineering and natural sciences on one hand side and social sciences and humanities on the other.

With this picture in mind, the Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana (IRI UL) aims to foster university-business collaboration addressing real-life challenges of Slovenian industry and society in general. The UniverCity Action Lab project provides an ideal platform to enrich our model by enhancing university-city engagement through interdisciplinary students’ project-based learning. The established platform will serve for exchanging ideas, for identifying pressing societal and environmental challenges, and for co-creating innovative solutions for urban challenges with all key stakeholders involved. Students will work together with wide variety of key urban actors, including the representatives from governmental and non-governmental spheres, public bodies and agencies, educational institutions, all pursuing a common goal – to promote and enhance urban development strategies and inter-connectivity in the Ljubljana city.

We anticipate that the collaboration and intensive learning experience will provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate and apply the knowledge and skills they have gained through the existing university curriculum and to contribute to professional practice as discipline experts. In addition, academics (teachers, professors) will become aware of the multidisciplinary complexity of technology and urban development and will be furthermore challenged to modify their way of teaching to these new circumstances. Industry and all other stakeholders involved will get a fresh perspective in relation to product and service development – especially how to assess, understand and incorporate users/citizens and their needs. The project will provide valuable insights into “wicked problems” and “big unknowns” that the city and society is facing (such as climate change or urban development). It will contribute towards understanding of human dynamics and will uncover the surprising and complex ways in which people and citizens make decisions. Finally, when it comes to solving the city challenges, we will try to question the “taken for granted” by looking at it from an “outside-the-box” perspective and encouraging creative, trans-disciplinary insights.

Exciting times ahead!