“Disruptive Innovation” is a theory by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor. It has since been a buzzword in the business sector that is used to describe how new entrants in the market, such as small start-up companies, can disrupt established businesses and ultimately change their respective industries.
The disruption innovation theory of the late professor Christensen has offered the field of higher education an opportunity to free itself from the binds that prevent it from realizing its maximum potential of providing students with a high-quality education at accessible and affordable rates. In higher education, disruptions are practices that challenge the traditional higher education system. Disruptive higher education practices are seen as both a threat and source of inspiration for higher education institutions.
Christensen lays out one of the most popular ideas in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. According to him, “real disruption to any industry usually comes from outside the existing sector.”, implying that it is often the newcomers who figure out an innovative way to provide a product or service which is essentially cheaper and radically unique. However, the professor also did not rule out the possibility that innovative disruptors could also come from within the higher education institutions themselves.
Below, both outside and inside disruptors in Higher Education will be tackled:
Emerging Online Universities
Mega online universities, such as Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire, apply a potential disruptive practice in Higher Education with the profoundly different approach they offer to education. These universities enable education to be substantially cheaper because of their mode of delivery which is via the online platform. Not only are higher education students attracted to the cheaper tuition fees, but they are also attracted to the convenience, flexibility, and cost-effective benefits of online classes. These emerging online universities also have corporate versions like Coursera.
These online universities are disruptive innovators to traditional higher education seeing as how a major decline in higher education enrollees in the USA since the pandemic began was due to them. Because online universities make various courses more accessible to more students, their number of enrolees is expected to double even in a post-pandemic society.
New Collar Jobs
Most people in older generations have spent approximately a quarter of their life completing their education. For decades, high-paying jobs across different industries have required at least a bachelor’s degree from their applicants. Because of this, people were convinced they must finish higher education to secure their futures. But with the emergence of more innovative technology, new industries and jobs have presented themselves. Most of these new career paths no longer focus on a candidate’s level of education but on the skills they possess instead. These jobs are called “new collar jobs”.
Companies like IBM, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft who offer these “new collar jobs” are another external disruptor in higher education. Because most of their job positions don’t require candidates to present degrees anymore, many students no longer have the motivation to complete their higher education. Instead, they enroll in skills courses, most of which are conveniently offered by online universities, to qualify for various “new collar jobs”.
With this, higher education is challenged to mitigate the continually declining number of higher education enrollees.
Increasing Affordability of Technology
When technology was first introduced, only massive corporations were able to afford it by hiring highly paid ITs and media experts. Now, advanced technology has become widely available to everyone, including universities of all sizes. This increasing affordability of technology has become both an internal and external disruptor for higher education.
To provide students with the best quality education, many universities upgrade their technological facilities, such as online learning management and collaboration systems. While this has proven to be beneficial for higher education institutions and their students alike, it is also the same contributor to the decline in higher education enrollees. More people can now access technology from their own homes hence, they are able to engage in various skills-development courses offered online which can help them land the same jobs available to higher education completers.
According to Oliver Matthews, a Frankfurt School of Finance & Management director, English language degrees mostly offered only by institutions in English-speaking countries, are now largely available to traditionally inaccessible countries such as France and Germany thanks to more affordable technology. Higher education can expect a decline in the number of enrollees in their English language programs.
The emerging trends presented above offer innovative solutions to problems in higher education while disrupting the system simultaneously. This disruptive practice both have positive and negative impacts on higher education. To survive the rapidly changing environment of higher education, institutions should embrace and adapt to the advantages offered by these “disruptive” innovations. To mitigate the adverse effects, on the other hand, higher education institutions should be more attentive to how institutional structure and culture inhibit the needed changes and stifle new solutions.
Higher education establishments, including their administrators, faculty, and staff, should welcome change and experiment with novel approaches to ultimately thrive (not just survive) in the onslaught of a brighter future for higher education through disruptive innovation.