This necessarily means universities would require placing students (the customers) at the centre of the ecosystem and allow them to drive the kind of degrees and learning experience they are looking for.
By Vikas Gupta
How would the University 4.0, the transformed university, look like? For about a thousand years, the university model has remained pretty much the same, operating as a well-regulated institution, with a structured and consistent approach towards curriculum development and pedagogy, academics and overall governance.
However, if we look closely, the goals of a university are not much different from an enterprise. In an age of fierce competition, most universities are striving to beat competition, not just from other educational institutions, but also from new players such as bridge education or edtech companies. They aim to acquire the best minds as students and faculty, strategise on suitable learning models and pathways for the new generation of students and researchers, identify ways to increase their customer outreach and acquire funding for expansion and growth.
As in enterprises where adopting digital is not an option anymore, universities are also being compelled to adopt digital technologies in some format or the other. However, most of these require considerable investment. Knowing well that the perfect storm of digital disruption is lurking ahead, how can universities innovate to ride along the storm? How should universities counter their potential loss of monopoly towards awarding degrees, in times when we see a growing relevance of credentials awarded by the industry?
In an age when the customer is the fulcrum around which businesses are rethinking their competitive strategy and value propositions, universities should also adopt an enterprise-like model, albeit not-for-profit—with a deep focus around customer experience, and a wide portfolio of options that help learners (customers) stack customisable nano-degrees, leading to a personalised university degree.
To create an enterprise like working model, universities will have to focus on:
Reimagining offerings and services: Stackable nano-degrees: This necessarily means universities would require placing students (the customers) at the centre of the ecosystem and allow them to drive the kind of degrees and learning experience they are looking for. To enable learners design their career paths with variable (moderate to premium) fees models, universities can reimagine multiple pathways to a college degree—in other words, offer a stackable, lego-block model of nano-degrees, leading to a complete and personalised university degree. This can enable learners select the programmes they prefer, to design one or several customised degrees. Not just this, the stackable nano-degree models can be an attractive offering to professional learners for continuous upskilling or for gig workers (learn-as-you-go) who seek to expand their portfolio of expertise on the go.
Reimagining learner (customer) experience: Individualised experience and relevant outcome: The millennial generation (47% of India’s population, 32% of the global workforce) is a digital-first, always-on generation, which are used to more a personalised anytime, anywhere, just-for-me experience. Today’s learners not only want to carve a unique career path for themselves, they also expect the learning experience to be customised to their learning behaviours.
Much like in an enterprise where the product and service models are designed keeping the customer at the core, the same needs to be reflected in future-focused universities, where the learning experience and learning models can be designed keeping the learner’s outcome in mind. The learning experiences of today need to leverage technology and data extensively to enable multi-modal learning, with a multi-channel (online, blended, classroom, peer learning, social learning), multi-device (laptop, mobile and in future integrating devices for AR/VR, digital twins and more) and multi-format (video, simulations, reading, creating, and so on) approach. Learning programmes would need to ensure the right channel is selected for driving the right outcome (self-learning concepts through online, collaborative projects and problem-solving through social learning, discussion-based case studies in classrooms, and so on).
Reimagining value creation: Bridge and professional learning, solving local problems through research with industry partnership: Enterprises today are pushing their limits to expand their offerings and market segments (and therefore the values they drive) to multiple aligned areas, either through partnerships or by developing ecosystems that can provide stronger value propositions for their customers. Universities, too, can create aligned revenue channels that can have better impact and drive value for society.
With 1 billion of the 3.3 billion people who are employed today needing to be upskilled globally, there is a huge need and opportunity in bridge education for those who are looking for their first jobs (education to job bridge) and for those who are looking for better jobs (job to job bridge). Similar is the range of needs for the 40% of the global workforce who operate as gig workers. Here, universities can offer nano-degrees and alternate micro-credentials in various formats (badges, certifications, executive education), as a model for continuous skilling, upskilling and reskilling and these can ultimately become new revenue streams for universities.
With corporates constantly pushing for latest innovation and finding a new competitive edge, the industry-academia partnership can also be further strengthened if universities are able to collaborate with corporates to co-create centres of research excellence with a goal to solve common problems, creating more IPs, and overall a win-win situation at both ends.
As they say, new markets and territories demand new approaches. The future of learning and research is set to transform drastically. To sustain their relevance and also enhance their value, universities would need to adopt strategies that drive successful enterprises in the digital era—not with a goal to become business ventures, but to integrate some their success mantras that can also open new channels of revenue.
The author is MD, Wiley India, and author of ‘Wiley Innovation Black Book Enterprise 4.0’