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Inter- and Transdisciplinary University: A systems approach to education and innovation


In response to various pressures for change arising from the present situation, the university will have to adopt a new purpose which may be recognized as a means of increasing the capability of society for continuous self-renewal. With this new purpose in mind, the structure of the university will be determined by the concept of an integral education/innovation system for which four principal levels are considered: empirical, pragmatic, normative and purposive levels. From multi-, pluri-, and crossdisciplinary approaches, all pertaining to one systems level only, the university is expected to develop increasingly interdisciplinary approaches, linking two systems levels and coordinating the activities at the lower level from the higher level through common axiomatics. Ultimately, the entire education/innovation system may become coordinated as a multilevel multigoal hierarchical system through a transdisciplinary approach, implying generalized axiomatics and mutual enhancement of disciplinary epistemology. Current university approaches to develop interdisciplinary links between the pragmatic and normative systems levels are discussed. Finally, a transdisciplinary structure for the university is briefly outlined; its main elements are three types of organizational units—systems design laboratories, function-oriented departments, and discipline-oriented departments—which focus on the interdisciplinary coordination between the three pairs of levels in the education/innovation system, i.e., on method and organization rather than on accumulated knowledge. An important role for policy sciences is seen in the linkage between the top pair of systems levels.

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Dr. Erich Jantsch is currently Richard Merton Professor at the Technical University, Hanover, Germany. While developing some of the concepts reported in this paper, he held a visiting appointment as Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Jantsch, E. Inter- and Transdisciplinary University: A systems approach to education and innovation. Policy Sci 1, 403–428 (1970).

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  • System Level
  • Main Element
  • Policy Science
  • Normative System
  • Interdisciplinary Approach