Keeping up with change

Gordon Murray (2008) in his recent paper, On the Cutting Edge (of Torpor): Innovation and the Pace of Change in American Higher Education  tackles the reason why higher education institutions are so slow to embrace change, such as technological advancements and innovations. He starts with the long history of universities being comfortable in their own skin while building themselves to a certain level of prestige. Coupling this with not having stockholders looking for profitable returns, having few measures to judge their performance and enjoying a self governance status, universities don’t seem in a hurry to embrace innovation or change. In fact, Murray states the average number of years for universities to adopt innovation is about 25-30 years from its initial appearance.

Murray makes interesting distinctions about the notion of innovation stating it is about the perceived newness of the idea that matters, not when it was first discovered. For instance, if an individual or organization becomes aware of the innovation, then it is the time the person or group takes to adopt it that is measured. In this case, on average universities take a quarter of a century to adopt innovations.

Murray ponders why universities are slower than industry to adopt, with the latter taking about 8 years. Some reasons may be bureaucratic barriers, the collegial decision-making system, mobilizing a bureaucracy, and being comfortable with who they are (i.e. feeling less competitive pressure than industry). However, can universities be compared to industry? Are they the same as businesses. Murray thinks not and sees the inadequacy of comparing apples with oranges. For instance, universities do not have a product to sell, don’t reward individuals for specific performances, don’t work from a bottom line, and don’t have owners. Instead, higher education institutions focus on collectivism and status quo.

In the end, the importance of an innovation becomes one’s conception of it. He shares Rogers (1995) reasons for determining the acceptance of innovation; this is its simplicity, trialability, and observability before adopting. Also important is its relevance, relative advantage and compatibility with existing contexts. After adoption there must be support.

However, not to be overlooked, more contemporary educational organizations seem to be embracing innovation at a quicker pace.

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