What higher education needs from its leaders

Released 14/06/2012

COMMENT Bill Graves, an expert in academic strategy in higher education, sheds some light on what higher educational institutions need from its leaders today, today and tomorrow

Bill Graves is senior vice president of academic strategy at Ellucian

I recently participated as a panelist in a live chat sponsored by the Guardian. We panelists interacted with each other and a larger audience to shed some light on what higher education needs from its leaders. Here's a link to the overall chat, and below are some of my summary comments about leadership, today and tomorrow, for higher education.

1) In 1920 H.G. Wells gave us an enduring framework for education as common good by warning that "human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe".

2) Today's progressive policy leaders are honoring Wells's warning by asking educators to scale up educational attainment - the proportion of (selected) adult populations holding a trusted, postsecondary credential (degree or certificate). For example, President Obama's attainment goal is to move the attainment needle from 40% to 60% in ten years.

3) Policy leaders, in essence, are equating attainment with the democratic principle of equal opportunity and expecting educational opportunities to become more open (affordably accessible) and to lead to increases in attainment proportions.

4) Policy leaders believe scalable educational attainment to be critical to advancing and sustaining social, economic, and environmental justice, thereby to improving humanity's prospects for survival.

5) Economic demographic trends broadly imply that the proportion of low- and middle-income students in the education pipeline is increasing.

6) The economic demographic dimension of scaling up attainment exacerbates an already widespread three-way affordability conundrum: the need to lower the costs of attainment not only to low- and middle-class students, but also to the institutions and governments that support them. That's why "widening participation" is shorthand in the UK for what I'm calling "scaling attainment".

7) Educational attainment priorities for higher education are increasingly boundary-crossing, collective (macro) goals that are not institutional (micro) in nature. Institutionally improving upon student-success metrics, such as various measures of persistence that include credentialing rates, is necessary to any increase in aggregate attainment proportions, but not sufficient. Credentialing rates a priori are not the same as attainment proportions!

8) Future leaders accordingly will need not only to be effective within current higher education service and organisational models, but also to have an achievable vision for leading the way across the boundaries that have traditionally demarcated various geopolitical and education sectors. New forms of collaboration and partnerships will accordingly be required.

9) Leadership experience, both inside the academy and outside the academy, can be useful, but no combination of such experiences will be sufficient to scale up, for example, national attainment proportions in large populations. Vision and a deeper understanding of the micro/macro challenges inherent in scaling up attainment are key necessities, along with the ability to attract internal and external collaborators to a more inclusively formulated vision of individual and collective success.

10) The globalised economy and its new enabling technologies interconnect everyone and everything. New forms of collaborative leadership will be required if purposeful economic governance mechanisms are to be developed in support of scaling up and sustaining educational attainment, while managing three-way affordability challenges for of all its stakeholders - educational institutions, students/families, governments, employers, and other sources of funding and support for education.

11) Unlike education, other sectors of the globalised economy have improved productivity with innovations and service redesigns enabled by technology. Education leaders will have to come to grips with this reality in order to create sustainable educational attainment models.

12) Traditional institutional leadership models and metrics of excellence, such as those practiced at Oxford, Harvard, and other universities, will persist and remain important. Education will set and maintain the pace in H.G. Wells's "race between education and catastrophe", however, only if new forms of leadership are focused on scaling attainment, affordability, and accountability. The levers of shared digital resources, communications, and collaborations are awaiting such leadership.

Please visit institutionalperformance.typepad.com for more information.


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