The Evolution of Higher and Executive Education is Here


The evolution of higher education and executive is here, and due to that, we publish our five steps to succeeding with establishing a higher education innovation center and delivering more value across the board. As with many other industries and ecosystems, higher education is under disruption owing to long-term underlying trends accelerated by the pandemic. Last year, the executive education market dropped by 25 percent and higher education by 20 percent. Why? Due to the pandemic? Or as an outcome of the outdated way of working in the industry, which would have happened regardless of the pandemic? Let’s start by examining a few critical drivers that have been misunderstood in the past and examine how we can turn them into an advantage. 

Four common mistakes turned into insights you can act on

Mistake #1: Students generally do not apply because of an institution´s high-skilled faculty. 

Insight #1: They apply because of the reputation, network, and possibilities for securing a bright future in that region (which, of course in part is powered by a skilled faculty as a prerequisite!). With the online learning acceleration and changed visa policies for online students across the world, we can expect educational institutions to be expanding or contracting. Fundamentally, you are likely to contract if you do not intend to adopt the practices of, and believe you are not competing with all the world’s higher education institutions. And conversely, you are likely to expand if you realize the market is more global and more online and involves the use of more innovation and networking, more interaction, more tools, more data (turned into insights), and more novel technology.


Mistake #2: The industry will simply pay the bill since they are a philanthropic bunch.

Insight #2: The days of receiving without providing equal or exceeding value in return are numbered.

The demand has never been higher for innovation and solutions to solve complex situations, and higher education has a clear place here. But to stay in pole position, and be a clear north star, Higher education needs to grow a culture of innovation, build infrastructure for innovation, and create a sustainable business model that appeals to, and works in alignment with, all stakeholders.

This transcends providing value in the form of students as cheap laborers, the faculty as gurus, and—what´s much worse—building fancy innovation centers with an unclear value proposition and purpose.


Mistake #3: Home-made solutions will work for a new generation of digital natives and a post-pandemic industry, demanding the best of the best.

Insight #3: Use professionals to build up an interactive infrastructure designed to form and built with cross-sector and industry collaboration in mind. An infrastructure that focuses on solving problems—not creating showrooms no one will use.


Mistake #4: You believe you will find solutions to new problems in old fishing waters.

Insight #4: Cross-disciplinary learning, research, and diverse teams have never been more sought-after by the next generation of students and entrepreneurs. Include and take advantage of highly motivated students and external stakeholders that once were believed to not “fit into” the scholar system and where the traditional scholar system certainly didn´t support their development (e.g., people with dyslexia, autism, ADHD). Put your preconceptions aside and accept that outliers make the most breakthroughs, use that as an advantage, and orchestrate the process by adding the expertise needed along the way. This is how to get results especially when establishing a higher education innovation center.

Five steps to transforming a higher education institution by setting up a high-functioning higher education innovation center 

  1. Foster partnerships by understanding what’s driving your stakeholders and what’s creating value through the whole web of actors. The first step to succeeding with higher education innovation center and superior value creation, in the short term and long term, is to change your perspective on your stakeholders from “wallets” (sponsors and philanthropists) and “resources” (students) to value creators in your web. They will enable and motivate the very existence of higher education. Always identify challenges and link all activities to them. Challenges represent the new wheel of higher education, regardless whether it’s executive education, graduate (or undergraduate) studies, or micro-credentials.
  2. Build on your strengths, do not imitate. Don’t try to be an Ivy League if you’re not already there. Don’t adopt all kinds of top lists and ranking systems to win more students. And do NOT try to persuade entrepreneurs and senior leaders in the industry that you will create value for them if you likely will not. Instead, identify what you are really good at and build on that. This is your sweet spot, your Unique Selling Point that you should plan for how to best take advantage of. For example, it may be that you have particular acumen in a discipline, with a strong alumni network within.  Perhaps you can enable tens or hundreds of thousands of people (alumnae, industry, society) to participate in ideations (collecting ideas, testing ideas, providing feedback, etc.) to carve out the future programs in that discipline, or to access unique industries, natural resources, and local issues that need to be fixed here and now and that then can be exported across the globe.
  3. Develop an infrastructure designed for innovation beyond fancy buildings. The infrastructure is essential and has to be seamless between the physical and the virtual world. Instead of just buildings and expensive interiors, focus on seamless learning and co-creation opportunities. Evaluate things like designed ideation rooms, co-creation areas, ideation platforms, online collaboration tools beyond rudimentary software like whiteboards and post-it software, and assessment tools for assessing and building the culture of innovation. Think about value-added activities such as common ideations across the board to identify new challenges to create innovation around, interactive workshops around identified challenges, common experimentations across the board. Be inclusive, drive solutions. On top of that, you can add maker spaces, equipment, and access to students and researchers, along with inspiring lectures. A lot of talented folks without infrastructure are not especially likely to succeed and getting back after the pandemic.
  4. Nurture a culture of innovation. In simple terms: you need to increase the level of connectivity in your ecosystem.  This is best done with a focus on nurturing the appropriate behavior, track your current position and accelerate from there by building the capabilities you need to execute on your strategy. This sometime abstract concept of “culture of innovation” is possible to assess, within the institution, and around the institutions. One of the leading assessments is the InnoSurvey, which creates internal and external value, and brings it all together. This may also be referred to as ”Ba.” Ba is the concept originally proposed by Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida and further developed by Shimizu. Professor Ikujiro Nonaka adapts this concept for the purpose of elaborating the SECI model of knowledge creation.
  5. Establish a winning business model based on your objectives and strengths. It is imperative to understand that there is no one single winning business model; there are several. The same goes with the operational models for innovation centers. Just to build the innovation center’s existence on sponsored and funding is not the way ahead. Of course, fundings and sponsors are key, but you must figure out why they should sponsor and fund you. Identify the value that you create, and that will guide you in how to formulate sponsorship and funding applications. Establishing one or several advisory boards is an efficient way to conduct litmus tests and get access to the inner thoughts of decision makers.


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