Co-creating value: The present and future of higher education

Carolin Plewa, Victoria Galán-Muros & Balzhan Orazbayeva

The value of higher education

Students are questioning if attending university will pay off. Increasing personal cost and thelarge youth unemployment rates in some countries make them wonder whether universities will provide them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the labour market. University is not necessarily a vehicle for social mobility for graduates, so they are turning to other types of education (MOOCs, industry certifications, etc.) that report them similar benefits in less time and with less cost.

At the same time, many businesses are questioning if universities can be appropriate partners to access talent and new developments. Wondering whether universities can provide students with the skills that will make them better employees, businesses are considering other type of skills certification in their hiring processes. It is also in doubt for some whether universities are prepared to upskill current employees through continuing education and whether they can deliver innovations that can be easily absorbed and applied by business to gain competitive advantage.

Some governments are also questioning if it is worth spending more on higher education based on its current impact on economic and social development. The budget competition with lower levels of education and other areas outside education is strong. Hence, governments would consider higher education a good investment only if there is a high return in terms of jobs created, taxes paid and research impact achieved.

Similarly, communities are questioning if universities can help them solve the most pressing societal challenges. Many wonder whether universities are creating socially responsible graduates whose knowledge will drive regional innovation and economic growth and whether universities can develop open research outputs that are available to society and facilitate societal benefits.

The question remains how the value stakeholders seek from the higher education sector can be created and what the role of the university and its stakeholders are in the process. While some universities already position themselves as partners within their ecosystem to facilitate value creation, much of their engagement is limited to transactional approaches and mechanisms, focused on one or few activities or narrow group of stakeholders.

Remaining relevant in 2040 and beyond

Just as a holistic understanding of the modern evolutionary theory suggests, life evolves by a process of diversification through collaboration [1]. Universities thus need to shift their focus from the individual organisations to the collective of life, since the collaborative and symbiotic interactions prove themselves to be of even higher importance than competition. Universities will be transforming and adapting themselvesthrough the decentralisation of the knowledge generation and transmission away from the ivory tower into communities and society at large.

Universities will be increasingly leading collective efforts to solve longstanding and evolving social challenges through needs-driven interdisciplinary research by translating science into effective solutions to address the societal challenges. They will better attune themselves towards more sustainable future.

Furthermore, notwithstanding the growing importance and adoption of problem-based learning as well as entrepreneurship education, never more than today has the need for more relevant society and community-oriented transformative pedagogies been so imperative. And this challenge will also remain important in the future.

Forward-looking universities acting along the interplay of the university missions will embrace the need for change and take on responsibility to contribute to the society in a more meaningful way driving regional innovation and economic growth.

But how will this happen? What will be different in 2040?  

By 2040, higher education will be a central part of a collaborative ecosystem that drives positive change and comprises not just universities, business and government, but also social enterprises, community groups and support organisations, schools, as well as society at large. To maximise success, the interface will evolve into a truly integrated co-creation platform through which all stakeholders will connect to learn, innovate and contribute to the society in a positive way. It is through the joining and integration of the unique resources everyone brings to the table that value will be co-created and that value will be realised for each individual, group and organisation.

Co-creation through place. Higher education will move away from isolated campuses to integrated working and learning models. It is here that businesses, government departments, community organisations, social support structures, schools and the wider society interact and work together, developing and strengthening personal networks. Such physical place will be augmented by digital platforms connecting within and across systems.

Co-creation through innovation. Innovation will be an integral part of the co-creation ecosystem, as the interface of knowledge, skills and vision will ensure a wide range of research, development and extension efforts ranging from blue-sky research to applied solving of specific problems. A strong innovation agenda means that individuals with strengths critical to any one aspect of innovation are valued and supported, independent of their formal role.

Co-creation through learning. While higher education will remain the focal point of formal learning, its role will be as a facilitator, enabler and connector. This role is critical as learners co-create their own learning experiences and their own future; together with the university, businesses and communities. In addition to the strong drive for embedding entrepreneurship learning into curricula right now, 2040 will see a stronger socially driven entrepreneurship agenda. By means of active community involvement, learners will own their role in generating a better ‘tomorrow’.

In the end, only collectively can we jointly co-create a greater ‘tomorrow’ and only engagement of all relevant stakeholders can make that happen. It will be the co-created future that will be of greatest value to students, businesses, governments and communities and that will ensure value is experienced by everyone in the ecosystem. Only together can we navigate the ‘today’ and co-design a brighter ‘tomorrow’.

[1]Stewart, J. E. (2014). The Direction of Evolution. Biosystems, 123; 27-36

 

Carolin Plewa is Professor of Marketing and Stakeholder Engagement at The University of Adelaide, the Deputy Director of the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre, as well as a research member of the Institute of Photonics and Advanced Sensing. She specialises in the interaction and value co-creation across a myriad of organisations and individuals, with a particular emphasis on university-business collaboration, as well as service and social contexts. Her research in the context of university-business engagement, in particular, has led to her appointment to the South Australian Science Council (2015-2018) and to her appointment as an inaugural co-chair of the University-Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) Australia Chapter. Professor Plewa has published her research in international marketing, management and education journals, such as Journal of Service Research, European Journal of Marketing, Psychology & Marketing, Journal of Services Marketing, Marketing Theory, R&D Management, the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, Education and Training and others.

Dr. Victoria Galán-Muros is an active professional with a broad international expertise in university-business cooperation, higher education management and innovation. Currently Higher Education Policy Analyst at the OECD, Victoria has previously worked as a consultant, academic, researcher and facilitator in those topics. As a senior consultant, associated at Technopolis Group UK and Apprimo UG, Victoria worked with the European Commission DG EAC along with universities and governments in over 30 countries. Victoria delivered professional workshops in 16 countries, co-authored over 25 consulting reports and participated in 12 publicly funded projects. As an academic and researcher involved in 11 universities of eight countries, Victoria has authored 30+ publications and given 40+ speeches as keynote/invited speaker in 20+ countries. Additionally, she sits in the boards of director of the University-Industry Innovation Network (UIIN). Victoria holds two degrees from the University of Granada, a MSc from the London School of Economics and a PhD from Free University Amsterdam.

Affiliated with the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre (S2BMRC) at Münster University of Applied Sciences (MUAS) in Germany, Balzhan Orazbayeva researches university-business cooperation and social innovation. She is a researcher in the consulting project for the European Commission (DG Education and Culture), implementing the largest European study in the area of university-business collaboration. She leads creative research process as part of Erasmus+ project in the field of social innovation. In her role of educator, Balzhan is a lecturer in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. She also coordinates industry projects executed by students in Münster School of Business. Balzhan is a doctoral candidate at Free University of Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) and focuses in her PhD on higher education in the context of university-business cooperation. She holds a Bachelor degree on International Relations from German-Kazakh University (DKU) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a Master degree on Integrative Project Management from Dresden University of Technology (TUD) in Germany.

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