Our recent projects and latest research has demonstrated that a collaborative approach continues to be the optimum strategy to building a sustainable innovation ecosystem. A key component of that ecosystem is the higher education sector. Universities and colleges make significant contributions to the development of cutting-edge technologies, sometimes years before they make their way to products used by consumers.
However, in this age nearly every sector is experiencing some sort of disruption, and higher education is no different. Students’ expectations of a college education have changed, and universities’ contributions in commercializing innovation is a gap that policymakers have been trying to address. Students, in particular, have evolved into a different target demographic than what they used to be: demand has shifted away from theoretical learning to more practical, skills-based education. Startups that became global blue-chip companies have increased the appeal of entrepreneurship or professional work after graduation. In short, university students strongly prefer to learn the tools and skills necessary during their time on campus to secure a lucrative job or start a business after graduation.
In response, universities need to develop new ways to attract and engage students in traditional instruction as well as spark their innovative spirit. This hybrid model is gaining traction. Recently, some universities have taken steps to assess their organizations and rebuild themselves into a “next-generation” university that can address current needs of students.
Concordia University in Montreal is one example of a higher education institution that is embracing this hybrid model to better meet the needs of its students and the broader community in Quebec. They currently offer programs to partner with university staff to accelerate research and development, as well as staff to manage the technology transfer process. Concordia is raising $250 million to support nine strategic directions the university is taking to become a next-generation university. The nine directions include forward thinking initiatives such as a transdisciplinary health institute, a collaborative Montreal 2050 initiative, and a next-generation learning center for “contemporary students [that need] learning opportunities that are more inclusive, flexible, experiential, skill-oriented, mobility-enabling and lifelong.”
Other Canadian universities are also preparing to undertake similar initiatives to support the needs and goals of a markedly different student body. Such strategies also ensure that universities stay competitive instead of becoming disrupted by entirely new businesses such as online learning programs.