The Failure of the Universities to Address Their Own Disruptive Moment

Unless there is a violent event such as a revolution or a giant meteor, the disruption of a system such as a business or, in this case, post secondary education, occurs over an extended period, often happening almost unaware by the affected parties. But we reach a tipping point or plateau where one can see out at the events, often, even then, in denial.

Globally, there are transforming events in post secondary education. There is increased demand, particularly in the under resourced countries to provide advanced practice skills for two major reasons. First, the primary/secondary systems in many countries are weak and students have been promoted forward needing further learning. Second, the complex needs of society both from an economic perspective and for civic participation requires advanced skills.

The burden to meet those needs has been met by expansions of institutional facilities and a further stretching of the availability of qualified faculty in the under resourced world while there exists, selectively, a surplus of faculty in the non-STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) areas in, largely North America and Europe. To further complicate the picture, analysis, focused largely in North America, but potentially global in nature, shows that the real need in the “new” economy can be defined by the ratio 1:2:7 or for one Ph.D., there is needed two at a masters level and seven with applied skills level. This runs counter to the standard litany of advanced education with the goal of a Ph.D. being the ultimate destination.

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flagship is not medallion university

The rising demand for post secondary education, particularly in the developing countries has lead to a rapid expansion of institutions or the consolidation and upgrading of others. The problem is that it has stretched thin a limited or non-existent qualified faculty and under-developed facilities. The current effort to emulate the largely western model of a post secondary institution cannot be maintained. China has determined that, even with its fiscal resources it must focus on certain areas and reduce its program of campus creation. The western institutions have met this challenge by allowing cross institution matriculation and similar expansion of its previously parochial idea of regionally identified or dominated models. Other efforts, such as competency-based certification is breaking the hegemony of a lock-step, largely age-defined path from matriculation to graduation and entrance into civic society.

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post secondary institutions- from the institutional perspective

From a contemporary perspective, there are a lot more voices in the discussion about contemporary education and its future at all levels. Part of this is due to the increased international visibility of all systems and the coupling of education more strongly to the economic world and international competitiveness of the work force.

The attention to the economics of the institutions themselves within an international context has resisted being placed squarely on the table. For example, the increasing costs of maintaining an academic campus/program is becoming more costly, driving many, even public institutions, to enter the global marketplace to recruit full tuition paying students, to actually open campuses abroad or to engage in practices similar to any business seeking a global market.

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purpose of post secondary education

Academia from a student perspective

when universities were founded about 1000, there were two broad mandates, prepare students for participating in civic discourse and to provide skills to contribute to societal well being. These goals varied depending on who underwrote the institution. Academic faculty were interdisciplinary in their studies and clearly worked across areas of scholarship for their own needs and to meet the educational needs of the institutions.

The balance between the two goals along with scholarly works has undergone rebalancing over the ages. In fact the scholarly activities, particularly in what have been designated as major research institutions has, in many ways become almost cocooned, become increasingly narrowly defined by “disciplines and have had most promotion and tenure decisions based on what is now called the publish/perish paradigm. Only in few institutions has “teaching” taken precedent and few, if any content scholars been formally educated in the practice and art of “teaching”

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Isomorphism vs. Creative Disruption-The University in Transition?

There are two seemingly disparate volumes on the future of the university, Kevin Carey’s “The End of the University” and Michael Crow and William Dabars’ “Designing the New American University”. Kevin’s is a speculative volume based on his work on education policy and his specific exploration into where the investors in Silicon Valley are attempting to disrupt the university of today. Crow and Dabars are focused on actually transforming a public RI university without a land grant charter and medical campus into an institution that approaches isomorphism with the high ranked research institutions but with an increased opportunity for academically qualified but fiscally challenged students in the State (Arizona State University).

“Designing” is one of an ever increasing volumes that explore the history and purpose of universities as they evolved from inception around 1100 in Europe. It is that “idea” of a modern, multidisciplinary, institution that the authors have been building for about a decade, following a standard path of “buying” research talent and building a campus while, at the same time establishing programs to bring qualified high school graduates to an on campus experience. Simultaneously, again, following conventional wisdom, they have reached out with a virtual program to attract students, globally, while allowing students to enter undergraduate programs at low cost to fill their need for advanced and continuing education.

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Navigating Change I

Physics has never been able to precisely solve the 3-body problem. This means that, even under ideal conditions, a mathematical model cannot be built to send a space ship to the moon without making corrections in the flight path during the trip. In the real world, where there are many and changing factors, these models are even more problematic whether it is plotting a trip across the country or projecting the fate of the economy over time. This is not even considering what Taleb has called “Black Swans” or unexpected events, beneficial or catastrophic.

We know that mammals and insects do have the ability to navigate long distance and that this knowledge is passed onto offspring. The Monarch butterfly is a paradigmatic example given the generational changes during its long migrations. How this is encoded and passed forward is still not known.

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