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Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Responsibilities for Higher Education

In most nations across the globe, in particular the progressive ones, higher education has been driven by the societal needs and challenges. Both public and private institutions of higher education play a paramount role in the readiness of a nation to address its needs at a strategic level. While public policy play a major role in the direction of these institutes, many institutes also are on the forefront playing major roles in shaping the progression of technology, social sciences, life sciences and other major domains of knowledge, and in some cases even influencing public policy.

Today's challenges facing societies across the globe are of a new nature. They are complex, complicated and require in many cases a complete new paradigm of thinking and problem solving. Approaches to solve the economic crisis, unemployment, social ills, resource sustainability and many other new types of challenges require a new way of thinking and responsiveness. The transformation of many societies from product development to service development has introduced a major shift and position of higher education. It is no longer an option for many. As less manufacturing jobs become available more emphasis on knowledge-based economies becomes a key success element.

Optimized learning is a new responsibility on the shoulders of higher education [1]. Learning and knowledge delivery can no longer be one-size-fits all, nor can it be at an abstract level. Optimized learning allows students to become effective learners capable of meeting new challenges they encounter and allowing them to be effective workers and members of the society. Optimized learning allows for the achievement of learning outcomes that meets not only educational standards, but also the growing needs of society.

Optimized learning means that institutes take on the responsibility for :
  • improving learning abilities
  • increasing the number of students who persist and succeed in programs
  • closing the gaps in achievement while raising the bar.
  • developing curriculum and courses that directly reflect societal needs
  • engaging and leading partnerships with K-12, private sector, non-profits, government and other institutes
  • setting and developing standards that reflect how well an institution addresses societal needs and challenges
  • creating learning-centered environments

In addition to optimized learning, another demanding responsibility on institutes of higher education is their public accountability and its increasing scope. For example community colleges spending has increased more than 25% between 2003 and 2009 just to keep up with state and federal mandates and reporting requirements [2]. Most of this spending is reflected in information systems expenditures and satisfying legal liability.

Despite the fact that many of the challenges facing institutes of higher education are a result of decades of poor public policy and miscalculated strategic initiatives out of their control, they realize the need and responsibility to streamline business processes and offer learning centered capabilities to maintain their position as a driving force in shaping and developing local economies.

What other challenges do you believe higher education needs to deal with? How have you seen others address these challenges?

[1] "Partnerships for Public Purposes: Engaging Higher Education in Societal Challenges of the 21st Century", National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, April 2008.

[2] "Industry Profile, Community Colleges", First Research, May 16, 2011.


Fil Salustri said...

I preface this by saying I've been teaching in University since 1989, and I've won 2 teaching awards - one of them province-wide.
The biggest problem facing higher education is technobabble like what's in your post. "Optimized learning?" Really? There is not a thing in your list of OL features that isn't already a key feature of the work of any teacher who gives a shit about teaching.

Ayman Nassar said...

Hello Fil

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences. While what you shared might be very true in your country it is not necessarily the case in many others. Even in a nation as advanced as the US many of these elements are lacking. Interestingly, I was at a high school graduation today, the principal of the school claims that his is one of the best in the region. Now, this is a school where 100 students out of 1200 did not graduate. So the jist of the post is that these elements I share need to be available both at the institutional and individual level in higher education and K-12 as well; and not just at the individual teacher level, to ensure highly effective citizens, rather than average citizens across the border. The whole grading system, distribution curves and curriculum have major flaws - we can no longer be sustained with one size fits all education.