Posts published on June 15, 2016

Universities Need To Become More Nimble With Less Regulation

HIGHER EDUCATION WAS ONCE the backbone of American economic and scientific growth. Following World War II, the government doubled down on its investments in our nation’s colleges and universities and helped drive corporate growth, intellectual property and technological innovations that became the envy of the world. And since the technology boom of the 1990s, we’ve been sitting on a golden opportunity—an imperative, really—to evolve the university model once more.

But now our universities are falling behind our own expectations. Legacy thinking, outdated teaching models and poor facilities, among other things, leave us at risk of failing our students—some of whom are given low scores for preparedness across key learning outcomes, such as analytical thinking and applying their skills to the real world. Furthermore, bureaucracy and red tape are hindering our research efforts. According to one study, investigators working on federally sponsored research projects spend 42% of their time doing administrative tasks.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we spend roughly $170 million a year complying with too-often vague, complex or duplicative state and federal regulations.

If we are to keep pace with a changing world, we need to take quick and drastic actions to make our universities more nimble. How can we be more efficient? What is inhibiting us? And where do we have opportunities to make the educational experience more relevant and practical?

The first step is improving key aspects of undergraduate and graduate education. At UNC at Chapel Hill, we’ve had great success “flipping” classrooms—moving away from the lecture-style format and toward “learner-centered teaching,” where students watch lectures at home and spend class time solving problems and debating issues. By doing so, one of our biology professors was able to completely eliminate the achievement gap between first-generation students and other students in her class, while also cutting the achievement gap for African-American students in half.
Right now, we have a “winner takes all” mentality in tests, grants and other areas. We need to embrace a team-based model of problem solving—one that represents the way work is done in the outside world, embracing partnerships and varied perspectives to solve complex problems.

In addition, universities must accelerate the way we create research and bring it to market. The bulk of our country’s basic research takes place in our universities, and yet business and industry perform more than 70% of R&D with commercial application. By finding additional funding, resources and spaces—such as creating new partnerships with private companies and securing support for basic research and entrepreneurial programs—we can give our students, faculty and staff the opportunity to take an active role in financially viable research. At UNC at Chapel Hill, we recently teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline to launch a jointly owned company, one of the first of its kind, with the goal of finding a cure for HIV/AIDS—a model for partnerships between higher education and the private sector.

Carol L. Folt is the chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Carol L. Folt is the chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
To paraphrase Charles Darwin, the species that are the most likely to survive are those that are best adapted for change. At this dynamic time in history, colleges and universities must evolve and rethink how we educate our students in and out of the classroom to prepare them to address both new and pressing societal challenges as well as emerging opportunities head on