Universities must embrace cultural change

Universities are among the most successful institutions created. They do not however accept change lightly. But what role do universities need to play in the knowledge society of tomorrow to continue their success. This question grows more pressing for the western welfare states as their dominance in research and innovation is being challenged by globalization and the dynamics of the emerging economies.

The example of the US, which like no other nation, has been able to benefit from universities as drivers of growth, makes this abundantly clear. For a long time America has combined cutting-edge university research with strong science and engineering and entrepreneurial-oriented business schools. This has allowed the country to promote groundbreaking innovations.

Yet, in an era of major shifts in information flows and communication practices, there are increasing doubts about whether the concepts that allowed previous innovations remain sympathetic to the challenges and research priorities of the future.

The advance of biotechnology and social sciences absorbs almost half the research funds of US universities. Add the expansion of national security and military research, and universities have lost important drivers for the industrial use of new scientific insights. Instead, the ivory towers, which were once believed to have been abandoned, have re-emerged. Tackling the giant US budget deficit, will also require new structures and processes in research and teaching at universities.

In Europe, Germany may appear to be in better shape to innovate, with its broad mix of industrial and service-related leadership and its strong and flexible small and medium-sized businesses. However, this should not obscure obvious weaknesses. What has been achieved through a drive for excellence and high-tech initiatives, for which the government has provided competitive university funding and more autonomy in recent years, may be lost once more. Ideological campaigns declare either that universities are not and should not be subject to economic rules, or express fears about standardized expectations, which are said to lead to a commoditization of higher education.

Universities must deliver on accepted performance measures yet differentiate themselves sufficiently to attract scarce resources under competitive conditions.

Germany and the US face similar problems. So far the American and the German university system have learnt from each other in a time-delayed fashion. Now, due to mounting competitive and financial pressures, universities need to learn from each other simultaneously. University success is not about tearing down the ivory towers. Instead, it is about opening their windows as far as possible to other disciplines and to new markets.

While freedom of teaching and research must be defended, at the same time bridges for mutual transfers of knowledge and best practices have to be built.

We need Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas to be applied to the 21st century. The university of the future is only viable if best research and best teaching go hand in hand with best knowledge transfers. To achieve these goals, universities need reliable funding to generate innovative ideas through research. Interdisciplinary links, a close integration with the environment (both social and natural) as well as research relevance are also necessary.

All this calls for a major cultural change on both sides of the Atlantic. For new scientific knowledge to be used more rapidly in universities and businesses, the university approach to knowledge generation, transmission and application needs to be rethought. More risk capital, new business models and efficient intermediary organizations are needed in order to build a bridge over the valley of death, in which so many basic research contributions have perished before they could become innovations.

Such efforts would be worthwhile. It is not only about wealth and employment; it is also about the development opportunities of each individual and the defense of intellectual freedom.

Written by Michael Czinkota and Andreas Pinkwart and originally published in the Financial Times, August 2011.

What We Should Be Teaching Our Kids That Isn’t Found in Heavy Bookbags

There is no doubt that children today are being overworked and over-scheduled—but do the Czinkota brothers have a good point about what education should be?

WE just concluded the fall school vacation. Between us two brothers, we have three children, 6, 7, and 10, with whom we spent the week in conversation, playing and thinking.

Here are some of the issues that we considered, but are not sure that we solved:

Are children overworked?

Over time growing societal surpluses have made it possible to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We no longer learn only because we have to, but because we want to and we can focus on learning about history and enjoyment of art, music and poetry, about beauty.

Even though the need for learning has changed, the process and conditions of learning have not been altered to provide for a more relaxed childhood.

Kids are increasingly over-scheduled little beasts of burden with more work of greater complexity carried in ever heavier knapsacks on wheels.

The available knowledge has increased greatly.

Yet, our children keep on learning the way their parents did. Are we perhaps maintaining an outdated approach, applying it to vastly increased quantities of content with a greatly diminished half-life ?

Memory outdated?

Could it be that all we are doing is cramming our children’s brains with more useless stuff?

We exert pressure on our children so that they learn.

Just as high pressure can transform coal into diamonds, perhaps our children grow more talented. We punish them for not doing sufficient work. Boredom is no excuse. Of course, shouldn’t we ask why the same child is not getting bored by TV shows, discussions with friends, or playing with dolls?

In a pharmacological society, many kids are given prescription pills to cure what once was seen as typical (highly active) child behavior. We have even seen children who have their own personal assistant charged with keeping them focused.

But there are also procedural learning questions: Why do children still memorize?

Memorization had its origins when there was no print, no dictionaries, and therefore no institutional retention. Priests and monks had to memorize in order to pass on society’s knowledge—they were the living word.

Today, we have Google, we have Bing, we have Wikipedia; all systems that remember things for us. Of course, it is said that by subscribing to Wikipedia we are buying into the hidden agenda of secretive editors.

Well, why not? For centuries we’ve bought into the hidden agendas of the secretive editors of the Oxford Dictionary. Even the monks and scribes who laboriously produced manuscripts, added or eliminated details. So the flexibility and adjustment of materials has a long tradition.

Alternatives

How much knowledge does a child realistically need?

Will (or should) the acquired knowledge ever be useful for anything?

Does it make sense to dispense knowledge in a shotgun approach (we give you everything and hope some of it helps)?

There is always a great reluctance to move away from existing patterns. There used to be a firm conviction that only the slide rule would maintain the algebraic memories of children.

After our vacation together, we ask ourselves whether it isn’t much more important to spend time with our children to play more, listen to and perform more music, exercise in more sports, engage in more theater productions?

We need to explain to them the things they need to know—for

example about morals, values, a sense of excitement and pleasure; about the facts of life, that prices are typically not the result of costs but of demand and supply; about friendship, and the enjoyment and benefits of new people networks.

With such knowledge our children might not be able to avoid a global trade and financial crisis, but at least they will understand it and react to it.

 

(With Thomas A. Czinkota)

Originally Published in the Shanghai Daily: November 2, 2009

There Is Sunshine Above the Clouds (Part 7)

Part 7: Grand Solutions – Internationalizing Higher Education.

International partnerships often continue to be intriguing wallpaper for a university president’s office. C.B. Klasek, in a 1992 U.S. Department of Education publication titled Bridges to the Future: Strategies for Internationalizing Higher Education, stated “[the rector of one major university] called a group or representatives from European and U.S. universities attending centenary ceremonies, into his office and would not let them leave until each had signed a linkage agreement. None of the agreements signed was ever implemented”.

International higher education remains mainly confined to analysis within educational research rather than stimulating minds in the fields of economics and business administration. University implementation of international strategy therefore remains typically at the level equivalent to international business activities by smaller and medium sized businesses: limited, ad-hoc, unsystematic and often inconsistent.

This post is part of a series by Michael Czinkota of Georgetown University and Andreas Pinkwart of Handelshochschule Leipzig on international business research and the new role of universities. Find Part 6 here.

 

There Is Sunshine Above the Clouds (Part 6)

Part 6: Grand Solutions – Embedding Universities Globally.

Historically speaking, university processes have a good international track record. Early on, universities exported and imported by either admitting international students or sending theirs abroad. They attracted international students and faculty members, the latter often permanently. By using Latin as the ‘lingua franca’ outward exchanges of personnel were facilitated. New locations were sought out, sometimes for purposes of expansion, at other times as a means to escape poor and worsening conditions. International partnerships were frequent. For example, Robert E. Curran, in his 1993 exposition of Georgetown University’s history, states that Georgetown University, a Jesuit school in Washington D.C., was left in legal limbo once pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuit order. However, due to collaborative work with Jesuits in Byelorussia, the order continued to be recognized by Czarina Katherine the Great. For several decades, the Georgetown staff became members of the Russian Province.

In spite of these manifold international activities, universities have typically not translated their experience into an institutional strategy. Exchange programs often do not outlive their faculty founders and international hiring decisions are mostly made on an ad-hoc basis – though some organizations such as the ETH in Zuerich, according to Hugo Horta in Higher Education, have incorporated international faculty and students into their strategic planning. Research collaborations tend to be temporary and international investments have been very limited – be it due to budget or risk constraints.

Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie state in Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University that since the 1980’s globalization has moved university activities towards the market, resulting in academic capitalism. Though universities are the prototype of knowledge institutions, there is only a very limited body of internationalization research. Experience is insufficiently recorded and remembered. Insights tend to be peer reviewed based on academic and methodological criteria, rather than incorporation the view of a constituency. In consequence, according to Nelly P. Stromquist in Higher Education, the knowledge and guideposts on internationalization is thin, and constitutes for many universities a search for student markets or respect among colleagues, rather than positioning their knowledge base as a global service offering.

This post is part of a series by Michael Czinkota of Georgetown University and Andreas Pinkwart of Handelshochschule Leipzig on international business research and the new role of universities. Find Part 5 here.

There Is Sunshine Above the Clouds (Part 5)

Part 5: Grand Solutions – Universities and Internationalization.

Traditionally, internationalization within universities was a bottom-up activity. It occurred due to personal connections by an individual faculty members or by research teams. Increasingly, however, universities grow internationally as part of a strategic approach executed as a top-down activity driven by institutional directives.

Several key reasons account for this shift in internationalization: A scientific approach demands awareness of and interaction with international work in order to benchmark one’s own work as to its competence. Internationalization is also part of becoming a competitive enterprise and ensuring capacity utilization. As part of their mission, universities also need to provide social infrastructure and networks for their graduates.

Universities are pioneers of the information revolution. In the 21st Century, they can assume new roles as incubators and connectivity nodes for new ideas and innovations. They are undergoing fundamental change due to new technologies, tighter budgets, increased complexity and growing global competition.

Yet so far, universities have responded only to a limited extent organizationally in a systematic fashion to globalization opportunities and threats. Firms, for example, have long ago differentiated their activities into investments, imports and exports. Companies, though also slowed down by inertia, shift entry approaches dependent on market needs. To some markets they export. Global sourcing and offshoring is used in others. Firms participate in markets through franchising or licensing and often recruit their staff from around the globe. They make investments, either as sole owners or in joint ventures, and shift venues whenever necessary.

This post is part of a series by Michael Czinkota of Georgetown University and Andreas Pinkwart of Handelshochschule Leipzig on international business research and the new role of universities. Find Part 4 here.