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Disrupt or Become Less Irrelevant

Disruptions in the Higher Education Model

May 3, 2021 by Team SetConnect

The esteemed walkways of the top universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Tokyo or Singapore were once buzzing with students from across the world, in animated debates with their peers and faculty. Post Covid, they all look forlorn and deserted today. Welcome to blended and flexible learning; all these universities with a pedigree of excellent campus facilities and eminent teaching staff have been forced to adapt to the new world of Online teaching. Is this just the beginning of many more changes to come? What will be the future of higher education?

The rapid changes in the environment is forcing disruptions to the traditional higher education models. Let us look at some of the factors which forcing these disruptions.

1. The Industry is changing rapidly

The industry has traditionally been forced to adapt to the changing technologies. It was the age of manufacturing in 1900s, companies like Ford and GE with strong manufacturing ability were the leaders. In the 1960s, it was the age of distribution, companies like Toyota and Walmart with global connections and transportation were the leaders. In 1990s, it was the age of information, companies like Google and Facebook were on the ascendant with their strong computer network and information sharing. We are now in the age of the customers, with companies like Uber, Amazon and Netflix providing customised products and services at customer doorstep.

With advent of AI and ML at work, the traditional jobs are at peril. Naturally, industry demands a different level of KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitude) from the students coming out of higher education universities. The industry requires their recruits to have the current on the job skills and the right attitude to unlearn and relearn. The Universities with their own traditional styles and thinking find it difficult to quickly adapt their curriculum to meet the industry requirements.

2. Continuous Lifetime Learning

With the rapid changes in technologies, it will be difficult for Higher Education to continue with the traditional “one curriculum fits all” model. Each industry will have their own unique requirements, which needs to be embedded into the curriculum. The challenges of product companies will be different from service companies; even among product companies, the needs will vary from Consumer goods to Durables to Industrial products. Each Industry will have to develop their own set of continuous and customised training modules to keep their staff up to date.

3. Student Experience

The advent of Gen Z has altered the student expectations; they come with a short attention span and demand great learning and personalised experience. Expecting students to battle with traffic, find a parking place, go to a lecture, write examinations by hand, get a seat in a crowded library and then go home again may be difficult to expect again. Courses need to be designed for delivery through technology – ‘digital first’ – and supplemented by face-to-face, human support.


Companies can no longer afford to wait for the traditional “system” to supply the workers they hope will help shape their future. There is a need to change how we educate both traditional college-age students and adult learners.

Hybrid Learning models are here to stay. Industry may no longer value traditional long courses; students may not be willing to pay more for these. Shorter, flexible and modular courses may be required. Higher Education Institutions may have to set up micro-Universities or Centres of Excellence inside the companies. These are challenging times for Higher Education and it will be interesting to see how they swiftly adapt to these disruptions to stay relevant.

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