What is Innovation in Higher Education?

A few years ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece on 15 innovations that had the potential to transform not only how education was delivered, but also how the industry itself worked.
Fast-forward to 2017, and the prognosis seems more accurate than ever. E-advising systems, blended learning tools (animations, gaming, immersive environments), data analytics and dashboards, as well as alternative forms of crediting (like badges) and public-private partnerships, have all gained momentum and sophistication.
But while the (technical) advances in the field are impressive, their rate of adoption is not. Plagued by outdated business models, inadequate performance measures, newly empowered customers (students), and increased competition (MOOCs, online courses), institutions in higher education struggle to maintain their relevance for society.

In light of all of these trends, the conversation around innovation in higher education is intensifying. 

Let’s look at some of the key points fuelling the discussion.

Why is Innovation Important for the Education Sector?

Let’s take a short quiz.
Here is a list of 5 organizations and the industries in which they are active. 
  • Fujitsu in IT and services
  • ScotRail in transportation
  • Mattel in toy manufacturing
  • Novo Nordisk in healthcare
  • Burberry in fashion
What do these organizations have in common?             
That’s easy: all of them are providing new ways of co-creating value. Moreover, all of them have steadily reengineered their cultures, structures, processes and incentive schemes to maintain (and often reinvent) their competitive edge. Because, today, no profile is immune to changes in the competitive landscape.
What about higher education?
Which players are leading the change?
Research Gate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers, provides – not without turmoil – data repositories and a virtual space in which organizations and individuals can collaborate and share. Udemy – a global marketplace for online teaching and learning, and Coursera and EdX – platforms that provide access to universal education, offer top-ranked courses on a variety of topics including Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education. Degreed, a lifelong learning platform, awards skill certifications for any skill and any level, regardless of where users got them. And the list goes on.
While more variety in how education is packaged and consumed is encouraging, the above examples represent the exception rather than the norm.
Universities and colleges, it seems, still have a lot of challenges to overcome.
Expert Interview UCSD cover slide

Expert Interview with UCSD

Watch the interview and learn how the University of California San Diego has set up an innovation initiative to improve collaboration across campus. Key timings help you navigate to the part that is most interesting to you.

How Can Educational Institutions Innovate Their Core Capabilities?

There are many forces impacting colleges and universities today.
Economic and demographic (part-time students, non-traditional students); financial and market-driven (other institutions compete for students); ideological (private universities must deliver good value for money) and ecosystem-related (how higher education is consumed – e.g., dual-education providers, internships, online courses etc. alongside traditional entities).
To maintain their relevance in the 21st century, organizations in higher education must do more than just sustain their core competencies (teaching and research). Specifically, they must design and implement entirely new ones (relationship building).
But networking/ relationship building are cultural aspects and, as prominent authors have argued, cultural change can be painfully slow. To successfully create new competencies, some argue, institutions must adopt a “systems view” of their actions and train themselves to consider both the big picture as well as the individual parts.
A great read on the topic is a study on Innovation in Higher Education written by LSE Enterprise and Panteia, an independent research institute. The report takes the system view of higher education and defines it as a network of higher education institutions, industry (firms), government and non-government agencies, and the society at large – all working to deliver education.
So how does innovation unfold in this complex system and how do each of the actors contribute?
How can institutions of higher education innovate their core capabilities as well as education and research capabilities to engage more with partners?
Download our case study with UCSD and get a detailed overview of their innovation initiative. 

Get Advice on How to Innovate Your Organization

Despite serious reform efforts and (often) available funding, innovation initiatives in higher education remain largely sporadic, uncoordinated occurrences. As Sam Cooke’s timeless song would have it: “Don't know much about algebra/ Don't know what a slide rule is for”. Replace “algebra” with “ideation campaigns” and “slide rule” with “KPIs for (collaborative) innovation” and the message is there.
screenshot of a video from Sam Cooke on Youtube 
In the absence of the adequate tools and even language to talk about innovation, educators’ struggles continue despite the best of intentions (“what a wonderful world this would be…”).
Luckily approaches such as collective impact programs are gaining momentum even in rigid, traditional environments as the one in question.
But what do successful collective impact programs have in common? And how do you go about creating a collective impact initiative anyway?
Hint: by having a common agenda, shared measurement systems (consistent benchmarking), mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and a support organization (responsible for coordination).

Wondering how to get started at your organization?
Ask HYPE for advice! We are here to help.