ROME, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Rectors and chairpersons from more than 20 universities across several continents gathered here on Monday for the inaugural conference of the Social Sciences Universities Network (SSUN).
The SSUN was initiated by Luiss University in Rome and Renmin University of China and the launch took place in the presence of Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti.
The two-day conference drew representatives from institutes of higher education in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Their aim is to discuss new research and teaching models that can move beyond "STEM-centricity" -- or an excessive focus on the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) disciplines -- and towards social sciences in training future leaders to be able to manage complex systems in a fair and sustainable way, organizers said.
In his keynote address, the Italian education minister said that while the past 15-20 years have seen "an incredible and powerful growth of technology and the STEM sciences around the world, we have lost touch with the social implications of this scientific progress and how to harness it to deal with the challenges we face."
These include improving the quality of life, fighting climate change, and reducing inequalities, Fioramonti told participants.
"Technology can help us up to a point, but it's the social dynamics that matter," said the Italian minister, adding that "interconnectedness and collaboration" are the new frontiers in science.
"We're getting into a new scientific paradigm where the correlation of knowledge is more important than depth of knowledge in any given field," said Fioramonti.
He added that "while every society is looking for the next Einstein, I think the next Einstein will be a network of scientists" because "research is becoming so complex it can no longer be accomplished by one man or one woman or even one country."
"Science is becoming more transdisciplinary, as an outcome of a collaborative effort across sectors -- the projects that will make a difference are those that take place across borders," he said.
"I am a firm believer in the positive impact of the technological revolution, as long as it is steered in the right direction," Fioramonti concluded.
Also present at the inaugural session were UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini, who stressed "the critical role of universities in creating a more inclusive and sustainable world" within the framework of the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Develoment.
"These are complex times and it is only through global and multilateral collaboration around knowledge creation and knowledge sharing that we can address the challenges of our times," she said.
Like Fioramonti, she listed climate change, migration, and "increasing inequalities within and between countries" as the main challenges that policy-makers must face, and said it is the job of today's educators to give future policy-makers the tools to deal with these global changes.
"Encouraging intellectual solidarity around the world is at the heart of the UNESCO mandate, and now more than ever this kind of mandate is really timely," Giannini said.
The conference continues on Tuesday.