Podcast | The Future of Universities – Revolutionising higher education: How Minerva Project is shaping the future
During the 2023 UIIN Conference, we had the privilege of…
What vestigial structures are standing in the way of creating a more learner-oriented institution? Dr. Cameron McCoy (Provost of Shenandoah University) joined UIIN at our Future of Universities Fireside Chat to rethink the design of education and carve a pathway forward to meet the needs of the future student.
You can listen here to the full conversation:
Though universities are beginning to show initial signs of adaptation beyond the agricultural-driven world from which they were borne, Cameron opens the Fireside Chat citing the seminal work by James Duderstadt (1999), claiming there is a strong argument for a refreshed ’social contract’ between higher education institutions and society. This change would better position universities to address the myriad of crises and isomorphic pressures they’re currently facing. Today, there is a shift towards a need to serve a more diverse population of learners. Higher education is now a consumer product – an industry, rather than a public good – and with that comes a greater expectation for universities to provide a more market-responsive, higher return on education.
“I do think it is time for a refreshed social contract, and that would help us be better positioned to address the collection of crises we’re currently facing.”
The education landscape is saturated with both online and physical knowledge providers each vying to meet rapidly developing societal needs. In this regard, Cameron adds, one of the failures that higher education has yet to actively address is that not all universities are the same, nor should they be. Universities have a timeless historical depth to them that should be valued, but the activities within it, by contrast, should be regenerative, disruptive, and timely to a pool of learners constantly in flux. Cameron gives the example of the strict credit hour as one of the major hurdles to this; how the entire accreditation system, tuition pricing, faculty contracts and workload is structured around the idea of seat time. As such, he claims the greatest adaptation universities could make would be to find mechanisms that create more flexibility in their education design.
“One of the failures that higher education has yet to actively address is that not all universities are the same, nor should they be.”
A further challenge in this new burgeoning social contract takes inspiration from Carse (2011) and the notion of higher education as an infinite game. Most of higher education is designed around finite games – you complete several steps towards your degree and then the ‘game’ ends after you complete your PhD. Cameron proposes, however, that education is actually an infinite game, with new players, skills and competencies to be attained and refined throughout the life course.
The advent of ’Web3’ promises to disrupt the current modes of resumes, transcripts and degrees. Cameron posits that there is room for the provision of those finite pieces as a part of the infinite education game. These innovations, such as the immutable ledger technologies of blockchain, can safeguard that credentials are accurate and easily verified. An example of this is the LearnCard, an open source digital and physical wallet designed to share knowledge in a verifiable and machine-readable way. In order to build an equitable and learner-oriented university, institutions today need to be able to recognise learning where it occurs – whether that is in an internship, in life experience, or in our institutions. This data allows universities to understand who their learner is beyond test-scores, and how they can best serve them as an individual as opposed to the current one-size-fits-all structure.
“In order to build an equitable and learner-oriented university, institutions today need to be able to recognise, and verify learning where it occurs.”
This fundamental shift towards a new business model often meets resistant from faculty, however, without rethinking that structure, it will be even more difficult for universities to be market responsive. Christensen (2011) describes three types of innovation (efficiency, sustaining and disruptive), which Cameron adapts to the context of innovation in higher education:
“Some of the greatest industries of today would not have been possible without our universities or innovation and research activity in higher education”
Cameron outlined the below process as a recommended baseline for universities to reach in order to become a more learner-oriented institution:
Once this baseline is achieved, universities can then consider the different kinds of tools they can utilise to support their transformation. Cameron highlighted the following: the development of a modality matrix, the creation of a robust learning taxonomy, and the implementation of a formative assessment to measure student’s growth through their time at university.
As a final word on the topic, Cameron adds that faculties are already tasked with a heavy workload across research and teaching, and the cost pressures of society make it difficult for universities to be competitive from a pay standpoint. Despite this, and in order to increase the flexibility and responsiveness of our institutions, discussions should turn from cost of education to investment in education. Only when leaders can invite and affirm new ideas in the design of education can we achieve an institution that fosters sustaining innovations.
You can listen now to Santiago Iñiguez, President of IE University, imagine what the Future University looks like and learn more about how IE University is working towards that in this podcast.
Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!
Future of Universities: Now more than ever, universities are challenged to adapt to, and even embrace, technological and cultural disruptions and lead the way towards social and economic regeneration. But how do they do this? Forward-looking universities start with themselves, by testing their educational assumptions, re-designing their approach to add value to students and faculty alike, and re-imagine their outmoded organisational structures.
Carse, J. (2011). Finite and infinite games. Simon and Schuster.
Christensen, C. M. (2013). The innovator’s dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
Duderstadt, J. J. (1999). The future of higher education, new roles for the 21st-century university
Madeline Arkins is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.