A new geography of knowledge is taking shape in which the universities and R&D centres have lost their primacy, their centrality has become isolation and the suburbs show greater innovative vivacity.
The era in which the established places for the production of knowledge could be presented as independent points of reference for the development of knowledge or technological innovation has ended. Today, knowledge is no longer a scarce resource; from a certain point of view, it’s overabundant and any offer that proposed as timely and unique is laughable, particularly in the eyes of the youngest contacts. This is because the distance between the place where knowledge is produced and places where it is applied has fundamentally decreased. In the past, the development of knowledge took place in a more orderly, slow way through exchanges and meetings within institutions while a different, informative, process then made the knowledge available to those who had to use it. Today, the generative exchange is not limited by roles or borders; 2.0 users make essential contributions in such relevant numbers and so fast that their exclusion from the creative process and movement of its focal point is unthinkable.
Every technological revolution aims at relieving the human being of a constraint – agriculture, printing, the steam engine – each evolution has enabled us to do without a tiring activity which limited our possibilities. Today, the internet and digitalisation relieve us of the need for borders and open the doors wide to the possibilities of a frontier life and a continuous exchange. The latest revolution annihilates space and extends the opportunities for trade thus making every physical and symbolic border obsolete. At this point, it’s clear that any institution that intends to lever the strength of its walls rather than the width of its doors is destined to failure.
The new geography of knowledge and its new focal point impose a new way of learning and the universities must rethink their methods and systems to turn their structure inside out – rethink their status in a certain sense. In a world of exchanges without limits and barriers, it’s no longer a question of cultivating knowledge and ensuring its spread but enabling the flow, governing a continuous exchange of knowledge, ideas and people, becoming able in recognising the changes that are designing our future, putting the students at the centre of our work. They are this coloured, vivacious knowledge on the move, a tacit knowledge that eludes the forms used to valorise it in the past and only grows through meeting. Faced with the chance of limitless exchange, we must give our students the tools to develop those abilities that will enable them to be effective bearers of innovative ideas and provide them with the occasions to build bridges between them and the economic fabric of the surrounding area.
When we decided to double the space of the LUISS EnLabs ‘Start-up Factory’ at Termini Station, Rome, and thus inaugurate the largest business accelerator in Europe, we wanted to intercept one of these flows and build an eco-system around us that would prove able to generate 500 jobs and attract investment of more than Euro 20 million. Constant work of interpreting the ongoing changes and the willingness to imagine the university as a river bank rather than an isolated tower has enabled us to recognise opportunities for exchanges and to move the production of knowledge outside academic confines, both in physical and approach terms and research techniques.
Next year, the LUISS will open the MHUMA, a laboratory on Industry 4.0 in Milan while we have created an urban vegetable garden for the local area in the university campus in Rome. These initiatives also aim at intercepting and supporting the knowledge flows on innovation and social inclusion, two important directions where we have decided to orient our energies.