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Open Education for an Open World

05/25/2010 8:30 AM Kresge
Charles M. Vest, HM, MIT President Emeritus and President, National Academy of Engineering

Description: In Charles M. Vest's expansive vision, scientists and engineers around the world are creating a "meta university" as they increasingly share ideas and build on common knowledge. Technology enables this integration of minds, leading us toward "an era better called brain circulation," he says.

Vest cites evidence of rapidly evolving intellectual capital, including the fact that R&D investment by government and industry, dominated a few decades ago by the U.S., is now shared almost equally among the U.S., Europe and Asia. "People everywhere are smart and capable," says Vest. "They just need to be given an opportunity." The key to opportunity, he adds, is education -- in particular, the research university.

This great institution, Vest recounts, began in Germany, spread to the U.S., and more recently into Asia and the Middle East. After 200 years, research universities are moving into a new phase, one of cooperation and openness across borders. Vest sees strategic alliances, with universities maintaining both a physical and virtual presence in other countries. MIT's OpenCourseWare pioneered the publication of entire curricula on the web, and this practice, says Vest, has grown dramatically, with people around the world taking advantage of content from multiple universities.

Academic sharing and openness encourage democracy, and underpin innovation. They are also essential for advances in science, which require "unfettered communication, an international culture, criticism and repeated testing," says Vest. The internet "has given us unprecedented scope, reach, speed and interaction," making possible a wholly new platform for higher education, one that is dynamic, communally constructed, accessible and empowering. While this "meta university" won't replace traditional universities, it will, says Vest, bring cost efficiencies to institutions, serve teachers and learners, and speed the propagation of high quality education and scholarship. It will also "build bridges across cultures and politically boundaries," and allow people of the developing world to "climb to better health and quality of life."

These innovations in education usher in "the most exciting era in engineering and science in human history," believes Vest, with major developments in life sciences and computing. The emerging international research force is also our greatest hope in responding to the "grand challenges" of our time, in energy and the environment, health and disease, education and urban sustainability, says Vest. "I am an optimist," he concludes. "I think the world continues to get better. If we can learn together, we can also meet the big challenges together."

About the Speaker(s): Charles M. Vest stepped down as MIT's 15th president in December, 2004. He began his six"year term at the National Academy of Engineering in 2007.

During his 14 years as President of MIT, he placed special emphasis on enhancing undergraduate education, exploring new organizational forms to meet emerging directions in research and education, building a stronger international dimension into education and research programs, developing stronger relations with industry, and enhancing racial and cultural diversity. He also devoted considerable energy to bringing issues concerning education and research to broader public attention and to strengthening national policy on science, engineering and education.

Vest's book, Pursuing the Endless Frontier: Essays on MIT and the Role of Research Universities (MIT Press 2004), explores the controversial and significant issues facing academic institutions through the prism of his own presidency.

Vest continues to serve as a member of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, and on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and on the boards of IBM and DuPont.

Vest earned his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1963 and both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan in 1964 and 1967, respectively. A member of the Mechanical Engineering faculty at MIT, Dr. Vest's research interests are in the thermal sciences and in the engineering applications of lasers and coherent optics.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Learning International Networks Consortium

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