Pursuit of relevance

How higher education remains viable in today’s dynamic world

The demands on – and for – higher education have never been greater. As economic shifts and technological advances dramatically change workforce requirements worldwide, corporate recruiters struggle to find qualified graduates. At the same time, the cost of higher education continues to rise, leading many to question its value.

As the value of higher education is scrutinized, so, too is the continued relevance of traditional education models. A disconnect exists today between educators and industry leaders, with little discussion and no agreement on the skill sets that are essential to successful employment. As a result, many students who exit educational institutions and enter the workforce find themselves underprepared.

To better grasp the numerous issues confronting the higher education industry and identify ways to refine an imperfect but crucial system, IBM consulted experts from both industry and academia. In collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the IBM Institute for Business Value surveyed more than 900 leaders from private and public colleges and universities, vocational programs, community colleges, education service providers and corporations around the world. We also conducted interviews with 25 leading academic subject matter experts.

Through our research, we discovered that most industry and academic leaders believe job placement is the best measure of higher education effectiveness. However, they also acknowledge that the current system does not meet its core customers’ needs or sufficiently equip students with the skills required to be competitive.

Despite these current challenges, major stakeholders are actually optimistic about higher education’s ability to better meet customer needs in the future. Unfortunately, this optimism might be misplaced, as academic leaders are not prioritizing the actions necessary to transform traditional higher education into a more effective model.

Technological innovation and industry demands are now moving too rapidly for higher education to adapt in its current form. The answer to the dilemma in higher education will not be found in incremental improvement. Rather, the solution involves a systemic transformation that prioritizes more practical and applied curricula, exploits disruptive technologies, and strengthens and expands ecosystem partnerships.

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