The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help shape Better Policies for Better Lives, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt led his country in turbulent times. Well aware in 1940 that the years to come would be uncertain and difficult—but far from hopeless—he told students from the University of Pennsylvania that “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. He was convinced that it was the duty of higher education to equip young people with the required skills and values to live a better life. The Higher Education for Good Foundation (HEGF) embodies this foresight. Indeed, the purpose of this new foundation is to overhaul higher education models, which are perceived as obsolete, in order to accompany young people in meeting tomorrow’s global challenges.
Higher education urgently needs to reinvent itself to provide the tools for a more sustainable future.
As higher education professors, we strongly believe that education can be a force for good—but it must evolve. The siloed topics we teach and the instrumental values we convey are becoming increasingly disconnected from the capabilities that young people need. Nowadays, global issues require interdisciplinary knowledge as well as the adoption of collective and humanistic ethical principles. Higher education urgently needs to reinvent itself to provide the tools for a more sustainable future. Such an ambitious but necessary goal cannot be achieved without listening to what young people have to say, what they aspire to, what they fear, and what they expect from higher education institutions. For this reason, the HEGF has recently launched its first initiative, Youth Talks.
Youth Talks, like the HEGF, is a bold and large-scale venture. It is a global consultation of people aged 15-29 worldwide; we expect to have tens of thousands of respondents from all walks of life. While other youth surveys exist, the key innovation of Youth Talks, beyond its scale, is to impose no constraints on the answers. More specifically, young people are asked simple but powerful open-ended questions about their hopes and challenges, without any pre-existing responses. Thanks to a partnership with the civic consultancy Bluenove, natural language processing algorithms are then used to convert these unstructured textual data into a more meaningful topography. By combining big data and artificial intelligence, we can map the consensus, dissensus, and latent but potentially ignored needs of young people across the world.
More on the Forum Network: No Time to Lose: Why empowering the next generation can’t wait by Silja Markkula, President, European Youth Forum Follow
This project, which will be recurrent, can be interpreted as a qualitative analysis done at a quantitative scale. Every year, the survey will also be prolonged by a research-validated, close-ended questionnaire addressing a specific issue. In 2022-2023, the global state of empathy has been selected as a priority topic. Without the ability to connect with other people, from different nationalities and backgrounds, global solutions are likely to be hindered by parochial concerns. Lastly, acknowledging that a picture can be worth a thousand words, we will also conduct video-recorded interviews of young people worldwide.
By listening to young people, Youth Talks provides a unique opportunity to co-construct a sustainable future for, and by, tomorrow’s changemakers.
The results will be freely available online for the general public, hosted on a dynamic platform. Researchers will also have the opportunity to access the raw data to conduct more detailed investigations, allowing them to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. We are confident that Youth Talks data will quickly become a treasure trove for all institutions interested in knowing more about young people.
A large number of partners are already backing Youth Talks. There are universities, business schools, youth organisations, international organisations and education companies. We hope to attract many more. We will present our first results in the context of an OECD Forum meeting, allowing other institutions to perceive the benefits and insights of this global consultation and, hopefully, join us. Youth Talks is only a first step towards better higher education models, but a very important one. By listening to young people, this initiative provides a unique opportunity to co-construct a sustainable future for, and by, tomorrow’s changemakers. It has become almost cliché to argue that the true wealth of nations is their people. Paradoxically, young people are often ignored. It is time to give flesh to President Roosevelt’s conviction by tapping into their wisdom and giving them the voice they deserve in the shaping of their future.
Young people are our leaders of tomorrow—yet it is the young that have been among the hardest hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The OECD is placing youth participation as a top priority to build a strong and inclusive recovery.
Also on the OECD Forum Network: OECD Youthwise: Application for 2023 now open!, by France Charlet & Chiara Di Stefano, OECD