5 Key Characteristics of Vibrant Varsities

To say that the Indian higher education sector has been remarkably doing its balancing act of preserving its traditions and meeting the challenges of disruptive innovation, would not be an understatement in the present scenario. From a waterfall process model  to a centralized learning unit and bureaucratic span of control to participatory academic leadership, the academic institutions are undergoing the transformation for better. But is this a permanent (and appropriate) fix for a sustainable growth in the ever demanding, globally competitive environment?

A number of challenges like emerging teaching and learning technologies, the proliferation of social media, shrinking external funding as well as the demand for flexible and competency based courses require the universities to do things faster, better and cheaper.  If put more aptly, the need of the hour is to become ‘Vibrant Varsities’. The predominant attribute of a vibrant university is agility, meaning the ability to quickly respond to the unexpected changes, rapid advancements or sudden shift in the circumstances taking place in the market.

Some institutions have already begun to implement educational strategies to create a vibrant 21st century university culture and embrace the market changes swiftly. Let us take an overview of five key characteristics that can be instrumental in the creation of Vibrant Varsities.

Centralized and Flat Structure

A bureaucratic educational leadership is often responsible for terse communication and lack of accountability between the central department and its learning units. However, a nimble educational institution flourishes in a non hierarchical management structure, with a single or minimal point of control. Flatter the institution is, quicker the decision making is and better the scope of innovation is.  Similarly, a central body ensures that all strategic matters such as policies, reforms, resource allocation, admissions and faculty management become less daunting challenges for the concerned subject matter departments. A central leadership takes the role of a catalyst and a facilitator, without losing the touch base with the entire structure.

Student Engagement Based Learning

The traditional course content in a majority of universities still largely revolves around classroom learning, textbook assignments and manual grading. But the modern age students expect courses that not only allow flexible schedules, but also sharpen their critical thinking and real – world skills. Hence, responsive universities should focus on customized, experiential and hybrid course modules, rather than the standardized offerings. A competency based project or an interactive online learning course can give the students an opportunity for peer interactions and two way feedback at their own pace. The higher education sector is also being gradually driven by automatic grading and data driven assessment, making it crucial for the institutions to adopt an integrated learning model.

Collaborative Leadership

In an article published in the October 2009 issue of Outlook, it is mentioned that agile organizations are able to change ahead of the curve when it comes to planning and developing a workforce with the right competencies and in the right numbers. They have deeper strategic insight into their human capital, and can use that insight to proactively put in place the right workforce that can effectively respond to urgent marketplace needs.

In the higher education sector, academic leadership can play a significant role in reinforcing receptive processes, innovation and culture. But to achieve this, they need to take off their anti-bureaucracy eyeglasses to highlight on the individual strengths and eliminate Achilles’ heel.  At  a broader level, the management can ensure a work tandem between the leaders through equitable compensation, job security, employment benefits, flexible work schedules and automated learning programs.

Meeting Industry Expectations

More than often, the  industry that absorbs the students post their university stint, express their concern over the lack of ‘entrepreneurial’ ability and ‘up-to-date’ knowledge in the new recruits. Colleges and universities prepare their students for analytical thinking and problem solving approach, but only theoretically.  What industry expects from the vibrant universities is an emphasis on the practical, rational content program, which also integrates the latest inputs and changes from the market. In the same way, the curriculum should empower the students to start their own ventures or multiply employment avenues for them.

Adoption of Technology

Ewart Woodridge CBE, Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, says, “The ‘Agile University’ is about the capacity to innovate, particularly in new business or operating models. It requires a creativity in how an institution is structured and people are equipped to lead and manage it. It also requires a strategic and an entrepreneurial approach to the use of technology.”

Technology is dominating various spheres of our lives, why higher education should be an exception? Most of the universities across the globe have realized the potential of technology assisted learning, and hence started leveraging on its benefits.  A fine example of this is the growing popularity of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), a distance learning course, which resembles classroom learning and is free to use for anyone without any admission criteria.

Vibrant-varcitiesThe above model gives a snapshot of which areas the higher education sector needs to focus on to become flexible and vibrant.

Vibrant Varsities are trending, are here to stay and ready to bring a paradigm shift in the higher education scenario.

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