Published on 2012/06/20

Reacting To Change: A 20-Point Plan for Higher Education’s Continued Relevance

Bill Gates has said that intellectual property has the shelf-life of a banana, a statement that holds true when considering the higher education industry. Photo by Keepon I.

How much flexibility exists within higher education institutions to react to change and alter organizational models?

In art, primary colors are mixed together to get secondary colors and even secondary colors are combined sometimes experimentally, to see what new colors will develop. Further, artists sometime start out trying to put together one portrait and end up with something quite different because of a wrong brush stroke, a wrong color, a paint spill or a series of strokes that eventually become one big experiment. The fact that something evolved from these exercises is a form of learning that tells the artist what colors produce what and in what quantity or what hue. These are benchmarks which will save the artist time in the future and provide some baseline for information future experimentation.

These scenarios are not only true with colors and art, but also with globalization and change. In both globalization and change different things are put together or sometimes are brought together without fully understanding what outcomes will ensue or resulting in different outcomes than previously planned. And because every higher education organization is operating in this kind of undulating and ill-defined environment, the issue of change will become a central feature in everything they do and who they engage in doing these things.

The central tenets posed in these scenarios are transformation, uncertainty, flexibility and risk-taking. In each of the scenarios there is something to learn about surviving ecstatically in a sea of uncertainty and change. Higher education institutions must see themselves in these scenarios because they are affected by many events and situations for which they have no control. In times past, proactive higher education establishments could have instituted changes in their policies, practices, operations, teaching and learning modalities, staffing models among other things with some clear expectations of what to expect, but today outcomes which are planned for can be quite different. Moreover, the situation can be very different if the word change is heavily resisted and the status quo stands. Higher education institutions that adopt a wait-and-see posture or a do-nothing-posture will allow change to change them. In such situations they will have to do more reacting because they have no benchmarks from which to smooth out the effects of the unsuspected change.

Globalization leads to change and survival-learning, as many of the trends that have come about (and will come about) have never been experienced before. No one has any concrete answers but one cannot afford to stand still. The kinds of changes brought on by globalization require movement of some kind. Any one institution deciding to stand still will fall or have to be bailed out like many of the banks or motor vehicle manufacturers all across the United States and nations all around the world.

In change of any kind resistance is a natural symptom indicating that something is pushing, pulling or knocking. It sometimes is a signal that something is broken or is breaking and needs fixing. However, when higher education institutions are operating in a sea of unpredictable changes like today, what is true is that flexibility will have to be one of the primary comparative advantages strategies they must develop if they are to remain fresh, congruent to learners’ and employers needs and maintain best-in-class status. Doing differently only keeps higher education institutions in the ordinary class and keep their students there too because they fail to ready them to function in a knowledge driven economy where creativity, innovation and plasticity are the key areas of comparative advantage for proper placement and sustainability in this global economy.

Today and in years past, what has been true about higher education is that it was always difficult to institute change in many fundamental areas like the curriculum, thereby marginally preparing learners to be creators of knowledge. Support for this statement was spoken by Victor Yu (Udemy) in an interview with John Moravec, editor of Education Futures who said that “…we need to engineer new technologies to help [learners know] HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn. Our school systems have focused on WHAT for centuries. Likewise, we see too many educational technologies focus on the WHAT as well.

This argument and the fact that higher education institutions are operating in a knowledge-driven economy where everything moves fast, teaching and learning must become more fluid and relevant. There is urgency for this shift if higher education institutions are to take their place in moving many stalled economies forward and creating new knowledge and reengineering old practices, processes, policies and methods that will bring them in alignment with what learners need to be able to know and be able to do.

Bill Gates is quoted on the Education Futures website as saying that “intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.” If this premise stands, it follows that higher education institutions as they are known today must ceases resisting the need to bring about change in what learners must learn and be able to do. Many things in higher education institution need to change so learners are primed to life in the workforce with the right kind of social and thinking skills, cross-cultural mindedness acumen and the right flexibility posture. These must be planned for, as reacting too resource-intensive and there is too much risk involved in continuing to promote and teach from curricula that prepare learners to say they have a degree… even though they can’t use it because there’s no alignment with what they have learned and the knowledge, skills and abilities employers are seeking or what is needed to create their own work. Hence, higher education institutions must begin to think about combining operations, policies, practices, learning and other activities until they get:

  1. Rigorous boundary spanning protocol.
  2. Knowledge systems to capture lessons learned.
  3. Intense multilevel evaluation matrix.
  4. The right kinds of programs and universal program support.
  5. Suitable faculty and staffing models to meet learners’ needs.
  6. Decent and diverse kinds of faculty and staff support.
  7. Right kinds of collaboration and research activities.
  8. Nondiscriminatory student-centered support models.
  9. Right processes, practices, policies and systems.
  10. Fresh and state-of-the-art teaching learning modalities.
  11. Integrated research practices for continuous program improvement.
  12. Built-in systems for continuous faculty and staff learning and development
  13. Proper levels of creativity and innovation for continuous program improvements.
  14. Acceptable lifelong learning comprehensive support model.
  15. Fair compensation package for full and part-time faculty and staff.
  16. Appropriate measures for continuous improvement of programs and systems.
  17. Risk-taking people in leadership to move the institution forward.
  18. Flexible funding models with more internal avenues for generating revenues.
  19. Flexibility built into processes, practices and policies.
  20. Intentional research activities to align curriculum with congruent knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes suited for learners global positioning.

There are many stories out there which suggest that higher education institutions will have to begin to think about what it means to be a higher education institution if they are to be suitable positioned to meet learners’ needs and to be competitively placed in this global economy. Doing differently means that many potential learners might be excluded from admission because they lack the conventional entry requirement.

There are numerous stories about how college curricula are too static and dry thus leaving many learners wondering what they are doing in college in the first place. There are many questions about the suitability of the current curriculum to meet students’ knowledge, skills, abilities and attitude needs but many higher education institutions are slow attending to the noted gaps or even positioned to leapfrog ahead. What this means is that many learners’ degrees will become less and less relevant; employers will have a harder and harder and harder time getting workers suitable to be the next generation of leaders and thinkers that will steer their organizations into the twenty-first century better equipped.

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Education Futures Editors (July, 29, 2010). Moravec: Focus on HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn. Victor Yu (Udemy) interviewed John Moravec. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

Frost, K. (October 27, 2008). Dropping out–or leaping ahead? Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

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