Ditch conservatism to survive, universities told

Universities will have to ditch the conservatism that has allowed them to survive in the past and change at a much greater pace if they are to prosper in the future, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has argued.

November 2, 2011

Philip S. Khoury, Ford international professor of history at MIT, argued that the model of a residential campus is under threat from electronic distance learning and that universities no longer have a monopoly over knowledge creation.

Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, he said that around 75 per cent of the oldest institutions in the western world are universities.

“The other 25 per cent are made up of the church, only a handful of governments with constitutions that have lasted more or less that long, and almost no commercial enterprises,” he said.

“Some have argued that the conservative nature of universities is what has allowed them to stay around as long as they have by comparison to corporations and other business enterprises, which have had comparatively short lives.”

However, change in universities could no longer be undirected and organic, and instead needed increasingly to be directed by the senior administration, he argued.

“I no longer think that universities can afford to remain so conservative even though being conservative has in some sense helped these institutions,” Professor Khoury said.

“It’s no longer sufficient to say that changing a university culture is a glacial process, a slow and rarely deliberate process.

“I'd argue that today the American research university is confronted with having to undertake accelerated change to survive and it has to embrace change in a much more deliberate, structured manner if it wants to retain its robustness, strength and international leadership.”

He added that the traditional model of university which is attended in person by undergraduates who live in halls of residence and attend lectures was under threat from e-learning models, and that “more and more” institutions were producing research that has traditionally been the sole preserve of universities.


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