Ninety-one percent of all administrators say innovation is a top strategic or academic priority, but just 40 percent say their institution has a dedicated university innovation budget, according to The State of Innovation in Higher Education: A Survey of Academic Administrators, from The Learning House and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). The report shares findings from more than 100 U.S. academic administrators and highlights how higher-ed institutions define and employ such innovation.
University leaders appear to share the fundamental view that innovation is “the art of solving problems to ensure students succeed in higher education,” but there is a lack of consensus on the definition of university innovation.
In the report, researchers say many respondents provided definitions they feel are too narrow for what university innovation might encompass.
“This reveals how potentially broad innovation is, which is encouraging, but without a clear-cut answer as to what it is, institutions may find it difficult to set goals, acquire buy-in, and allocate funds for innovative efforts.”
Innovation is defined as “the implementation of new initiatives in order to drive growth, increase revenue, reduce cost, differentiate experience, or adjust the value proposition.”
Higher ed seems to view university innovation as a means to solve problems. Surveyed academic administrators regularly mention problem-solving when discussing their definitions of innovation. Sixty-eight percent of respondents rank student success as a top-three goal for innovation, and an increase in nontraditional learners, such as online students, who require different or additional support services has augmented the need to prioritize student success.
Balancing administrative leadership and operational initiative is key. Top-down approaches in which the president and provost set the tone and directive for innovation should be balanced and include a bottom-up component where faculty, staff, and other constituents can drive the innovation process on their own.
Structural issues and cultural factors are the most common barriers to successful innovation. A great majority of administrators (80 percent) cited structural issues and cultural factors as top barriers to university innovation. Researchers say those barriers can be overcome by strong leadership-shaping processes to better promote collaboration, as well as rewards and incentives to encourage shifts in culture.
Administrators who say innovation is driven by the academic administration are more likely to have a dedicated budget for innovation (52 percent), compared to those reporting multiple driving forces (40 percent).
“Innovation’s broad scope presents abundant opportunities, but it also raises its fair share of barriers,” says report co-author Jill Buban, Ph.D., senior director of research and innovation for OLC. “If an institution is formally planning goals around innovation, there should be earmarked funds to support these efforts.”
Fifty percent of surveyed administrators said they believe their institution is above average in its position on innovation within higher education, while close to 20 percent feel they are slower or behind. Roughly one-third say they believe they are average.