4 key findings about university innovation

Nearly all administrators (91 percent) in a recent survey say innovation is a top strategic or academic priority, but just 40 percent say their institution has a dedicated innovation budget, according to a new report that explores the drivers and barriers to higher-ed innovation.

The State of Innovation in Higher Education: A Survey of Academic Administrators, from The Learning Counsel and the Online Learning Consortium, surveyed more than 100 U.S. academic administrators and seeks to highlight how higher-ed institutions define and employ such innovation. 

BOLD 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 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,” according to the report.

In the report, 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.”

BOLD Higher ed seems to view innovation as a means to solve problems, according to the report. 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.

BOLD Balancing administrative leadership and operational initiative is key, according to the report. 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.

BOLD 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 innovation at their institutions. 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).