Challenges Confronting Higher Education: Prospects for and Obstacles to Innovation

Challenges Confronting Higher Education: Prospects for and Obstacles to Innovation

Ram Baliga
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2708-5.ch002
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This chapter discusses challenges confronting higher education in general but business/management education in particular and efforts to deal with the same. Innovation attempts to deal with these challenges and their relative success and failure are delineated. Using concepts from organizational behaviour and organizational design, a detailed analysis of the obstacles to innovation is presented and potential solutions discussed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of steps that higher-educational institutions can adopt to increase their viability.
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The context in which institutions of higher education function has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades as a result of shifts in technology, geopolitical volatility, changes in regulations and public policies, conflicting demands from a myriad of stakeholders, globalization, digitization, widespread resource crunch, evolution of social media which facilitates instant global communication around diverse causes, and demands for increased transparency and accountability. This volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—VUCA-- (Johansen, 2012) environment is challenging educational institutions to be more agile, adaptable and innovative to maintain viability (Baliga & Santalainen, 2017).

Recent years have also witnessed the rapid development of artificial intelligence and an increase in convergence across disciplines. AI (artificial intelligence) is rapidly replacing personnel, not only in entry level positions but, increasingly, even in positions that call for unstructured decision making (Aoun, 2017). Convergence 1.0 and Convergence 2.0 arising from the intersection of physics & engineering and biology & engineering respectively, are creating a plethora of new products, services and industries such as quantum biology and regenerative medicine (Hockfield, 2019). These developments are raising questions about the appropriateness of current approaches to teaching and learning adopted by institutions of higher education.

Ironically, even as developments in science and technology have become key drivers of economic growth, particularly in OECD countries, we are witnessing increasing hostility to the scientific approach, the cornerstone of higher education. Such hostility is threatening the very essence of higher education, viz., the human capacity to know, to create, to test and to experiment with new ideas. Compounding this is the infiltration of various ideologies -- social justice, diversity, political correctness, gender issues and the like-- in the functioning of colleges and universities (Cabranes, 2019). Medical schools in the US, for example, have become a target for inculcating social policy focusing on issues such as ‘climate change’ at the expense of rigorous training in medical science (Goldfarb, S., 2019). Issues of diversity, in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,are supplanting discussion of ‘excellence’ and ‘rigor’ in academia. Despite lip service, little attention is paid to diversity in terms of intelligence, values and judgment. Diversity also exercises an oversize influence on faculty recruitment and retention which, in turn, affects adaptability and innovation (Kronman, 2019). Concerns with diversity have led to many colleges and universities reducing the importance of standardized tests such as SAT, ACT, GRE and GMAT, in admission decisions.

The notion that higher education is a birth right, at least in the US, has led to the commoditization of higher education. Intellectualism, in Dewey’s terms, as being associated with judgment (Garrison, Neubert & Reich, 2012), is considered passé, except at the most selective institutions, and, even in these, it is coming under stress. It is increasingly ‘uncool’ to be an intellectual. Smart students are bullied for distorting grades and branded as ‘nerds’, ‘dorks’ and ‘geeks’. Consequently, true education—where participants (all stakeholders) learn to think and act differently—is giving way to credentilization and shallow vocational training. Education is becoming increasingly instrumental with a focus on training for jobs and careers rather than humanistic.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Radical innovations: completely transform the way institutions engage with their environment; stem from new knowledge or breakthrough ideas that supplant an existing model destroying existing systems and processes and replacing them with entirely new ones.

Disruptive Innovation: process in which smaller organizations with fewer resources challenge incumbents by making their offerings more accessible, affordable and available to a larger population.

Active Learning: any instructional method that engages students in the learning process; requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are.

Ambidexterity: The ability to proficiently do two (seemingly) conflicting things in parallel.

Convergence 2.0: coming together of biology and engineering.

Convergence1.0: coming together/integration of physics and engineering in systems of devices.

Teaching: Ideas or principles taught by an expert.

Business as Usual: People and organizations continue doing what they normally do despite change in circumstances.

Innovation: A new idea, creative thought or imagination in the form of methods or devices; application of better solutions that meet new requirements, needs—existing or unarticulated.

Viability: Ability to survive or live successfully.

Administrative Heritage: An institution’s strategic and organizational history, including its configuration of assets, the evolution of its organizational configuration, the strategies and management philosophies the entity has pursued, its core competencies, and its corporate culture.

Learning: The acquisition of knowledge, skills, behaviors, values or preferences through experience, study, or by being taught.

Convergence: The coming together of two different entities or elements.

Absorptive capacity: Organization’s ability to identify, assimilate, transform and use external knowledge, research and practice.

VUCA: Acronym that reflects volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current situation or condition.

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