Strategic Issue That Universities Must Deal With In The Next Decade

Strategic Issue That Universities Must Deal With In The Next Decade

Some strategic issues will shape the university’s future for the next decade. Indeed, all of higher education will be changed in the next ten years by the developments we have in mind. Among these strategic concerns, two appear to be the most important. The first is resource availability and government oversight. The second concerns academic programs. Let’s begin with resource availability and government oversight, where four sub-matters will dictate the way our campuses develop.


– One, we will continue to deal with cost containment, productivity, and accountability at state and federal levels.

– Two, federal policy will continue to determine funding levels for student aid, research and health care.

– Three, state funding policies and priorities will continue to have significant impact on us.

– And lastly, market-driven changes in health-care delivery will greatly influence all universities, particularly those institutions with medical schools.


The second strategic issue involves academic programs. In this category, six major subsets should concern us. They are:


– The basic matter of access to higher education.

– The quality of teaching, learning, research, and scholarship.

– The increasing need for life-long learning.

– The internationalization of education and commerce.

– The responsiveness of our public service outreach to societal issues.

– The threat of increasing competition from for-profit higher education organizations.


Now, which technologies will affect higher education most dramatically in the next decade? I feel confident that five are likely to challenge us the most. The first of these five is the Internet and the related telecommunications and computer technologies. The remaining four are genetics, materials, nano-structures, and molecular biology.


Of all of those, I think the most important technology in terms of its effect on academic issues, and also on the other technologies I mentioned, is the Internet. That includes telecommunications and computers.


Look at the six issues we face. Access to higher education will be dramatically affected by telecommunications and computer technologies. So will the quality of teaching, learning, and research. I don’t know whether the coming changes will be positive or negative, but there will be changes.


It also seems obvious to me that telecommunications and computers and the Internet will increase the need for lifelong learning. Continuous education will be needed for people to advance – or even just to stay current – in most fields. And how will we meet that need? I believe it will be through the Internet. It will be at once the catalyst for great change and the tool by which we respond to the challenge.


Just as advances in telecommunications and computers are rapidly changing the commerce side of the global economy, they also will speed up the internationalization of education. These forces will change the ways in which we respond to societal issues through outreach programs. And, I think they will have dramatic impacts on the faculty work environment and on how we govern ourselves.


And, of course, the existence of these technologies is why we have today’s increasing competition from a growing number of for-profit higher education organizations.


So, in my view, technology, particularly telecommunications and computers, represents the most profound strategic issue that universities must deal with in the next decade.


At this point, let me suggest that the Internet, and the technology that supports it, may constitute the third revolution of higher education. The first was the land-grant movement of the 19th century, which gave the lower and middle classes access to college education. Next came the community college development of the 20th century, which gave us universal access to higher education at the district level. The third, the technology revolution of the 21st century, will give us access beyond the bounds of time and place.


Now the question becomes, will land-grant universities lead the creation and the integration of new technologies into all facets of our operations, or will we simply follow others? Who will be out front and who will be merely among the rest?


Some argue that the challenge is even more profound. I agree, for I believe the very success or failure of universities will depend on their ability to create new technology and integrate it into all they do. Is there any evidence of this need? I think that there is.


What will the Internet’s impact be on higher education in the years to come? First, networks will be put in place intrastate and interstate that will connect all higher education institutions to each other. Second, the Internet will give people access to higher education no matter where they are. Third, it will provide advanced training opportunities. And it will provide advanced outreach opportunities.


What impact will these networks have on our current practices and how will they make them different?


Today, most academic interactions occur in many different, but isolated, ways. For example:


– Classrooms, lounges, and cafes allow students to communicate with faculty and with each other.

– Laboratories make it possible to learn through experiments and to test theories.

eBooks, textbooks and graphical information.

– Video, sound and planned interaction.

– Broadcast TV reaches huge audiences at a distance.

– Interactive video allows audiences to respond.

– We speak in pairs or multiple pairs over telephones.

– We send written messages and graphics but these are all isolated events. The Internet allows us to combine all these things, and to overcome their limitations.


The Internet can:


– Update material rapidly at relatively low cost to the producer and at no cost to the receiver.

– Transmit voice, data, graphics, and video.

– Reach large audiences or small ones, and the audiences can respond and interact.


Is the Internet changing the way we do outreach? We all realize that extension and outreach are information-rich areas. We have relied upon print, face-to-face, and radio and TV for communication, but now we are expanding in terms of telecommunications.


The vision for the future of cooperative extension is that these online extension information holdings across the country will be merged into a national website. The current system of operating independently – your own websites – your own databases – is all changing, as I’m sure you know.


But these changes are occurring must faster than most of us realize, because now people can access websites and find expert information on tools for managing, decision-making, and record keeping, as well as traditional technical information.


Are the new programs the final outcome of where Internet technology is going or are they just the beginning? Are there more global institutional initiatives underway using the Internet and telecommunications? Will they further transform how we do our teaching, research, and outreach? We have evidence of institutional changes that are occurring very quickly involving the Internet.


Where, then, is the future being created? Where do we look to see what it will be like? The infrastructure’s mission is:


– To provide access to high-end computing infrastructure for the scientific and engineering communities.

– To partner with universities, states, and industry to facilitate and enhance that access.

– To support the effective use of such infrastructure through training, consulting, and related support services.

– To be vigorous early users of experimental and emerging high-performance technologies that offer high potential for advancing computational science and engineering.

– To facilitate the development of the intellectual capital required to maintain world leadership.


In general, the partnership will address the nation’s most important technological problems by using our nation’s best minds in unaccustomed ways. That is new. No longer will we talk about drawing people together at Penn State or the University of Illinois or Oregon State or anywhere else. Rather, research and management teams that are geographically dispersed will be linked electronically to deal with all kinds of issues.


Thus, virtual research teams and virtual management will be created, which means virtual cooperative extension activities will be created. They will greatly expand our computer shared memory capacity to deal with previously intractable problems, taking advantage of the new parallel-processing computer techniques. They will revise software for geographically dispersed models of physical and biological systems to be compatible with parallel-processing hardware, where applicable.


These changes will provide access to geographically dispersed databases on architecturally diverse machines for running these physical and biological models. For those of you in the field, this will allow desktop access to the models and databases so geographically dispersed researchers can perform collaborative research.


And finally, the transfer of those research findings to society will be done in this virtual environment, too. Think of that. When you have a problem, no longer will you phone your local university or your local cooperative extension service. I predict that in a decade you will operate in a virtual environment with a computer that will give you access to the most advanced computing and database environment in the world.


To create this future, several partnerships will be formed that envision a coalition of computer scientists; computational scientists; and professionals in education, outreach, and training, along with industrial partners. The partner activities include four general areas:


– Advanced Hardware Partners. They will provide access to mid-range computers, data storage systems, and experimental machine architectures.

– Application Technology Partners. They will engage in high-end applications to develop and optimize specific codes and software infrastructures.

– Enabling Technology Partners. These partners will develop software tools for both parallel computing and heterogeneous computing on geographically distributed, architecturally diverse machines and databases.

Education, Outreach, and Training Partners. They will work to build awareness and understanding of how to use high-performance computing and communications resources on the job.


Begin to think of immersive technology now. The national-scale metacomputer will be as usable in ten years as a stand-alone supercomputer is today. It will have enormous power. You will have it at your fingertips. The national technology grid will permit us to access any database on any network in the country by just typing what we want.


We will focus on six areas. They are chemical engineering, cosmology, environment hydrology, molecular biology, nanomaterials, and scientific instrumentation. Two of those will be of particular interest for university extension programs.


One is environment hydrology. The goal in this area is to create numerical modeling, data analysis, and visualization software for use in predicting environmental events and evaluating environmental phenomena. Applications will include emergency flood management, logistical operations, and ecosystems management.


That means that we will be able to link isolated computer models across the country of such things as atmospheric precipitation, surface water flow, and watershed ecosystems. Such an integrated model would be event-driven, multi-spatial, and multi-temporal.


So, if you are a cooperative extension person in, say, California’s current desperate situation, how do you deal with emergency flood management? The answer I foresee will be available within the next decade. You will be able to access models and databases and computers anywhere in the country from your tablet and accurately predict what a heavy rainfall along the Russian River will mean to people in the Russian River watershed.


Look also at ecosystem management. Cooperative extension workers in Illinois in the environmental group are worrying about nitrate problems and runoff problems in the Illinois River watershed. Soon they, and even non-technical people, will be able to access powerful computer models, key in their information, and get back information that will enable them to accurately forecast the chemical and biological impacts of such problems on their area.


Another example is in molecular biology. Again, it will be a Web-based environment. The goal will be to integrate software tools for searching and analyzing both the genome and the protein databases. It will also be used for interactive computation, such as visualization and docking (modeling the way in which genomes and molecules go together), scientific instrument control, and programs to simulate molecular and Brownian dynamics and Monte Carlo experiments.


Creating such advanced computational models requires aligning and accessing enormous databases and will make available distributed access to the massive data sets necessary for work on such data-intensive subjects as the genome project or environmental issues. They will give you universal access, as well as high-resolution displays and virtual environments. Not only will you see the data, but you also will be in virtual environments in which you can experience the changes. This is called an immersive environment. When you are able to do this, in about a decade, it will change the way you conduct your business.


This is going to result in multi-media support for collaboration, data exploration, computational steering, and replay. It means you will be able to do “what-if” sorts of things at your desk with collaborators all across the country. The local, geographic-based operation, in either education or cooperative extension, will no longer be the rule. We will see, instead, virtual management groups, virtual management teams, virtual universities.


All of this has great meaning for land-grant institutions. First, the methods of technology transfer will change dramatically. There are three traditional ways of transferring knowledge to the commercial market:


– Moving university people to industry.

– Publishing papers.

– Licensing intellectual property.


The problems with these traditional methods are that the transfer of technology is slow relative to market rate of change and only individual ideas are transferred.


In the future, however, transfer partners will be a part of the virtual team. For example, someone interested in a new technology in soybean research will not turn to university experts alone. He or she will go also to soybean vendors, as well as users of that technology. It means that from the inception of an idea, technology will be automatically transferred, because the members of the virtual team will include industry, users, and vendors. Second, the barriers of time and space separating potential collaborators will be eliminated. Some consequences of this include these:


– It will be possible to quickly assemble and reconfigure virtual research teams, calling on the very best people in the country to deal in a collaborative way with a particular problem.

– It will reduce the need for industrial partners to contract with a particular university. Industries will look for individuals at various universities to contract with to do their research and their evaluations. This could rearrange institutional loyalties within universities. It could reduce the importance of strong institutional research teams. This might or might not be good, but it probably will occur regardless.

– It will enable industry representatives to be full-time team members in everything that we do.

– It will mean that any institutions dealing only with the mechanics of data management or information sharing will be eliminated. You won’t have to worry about getting access to data.

– It will mean that, in the future, interactions between researchers will likely take place in virtual environments. The way we do business will be transformed as we gain the ability to attack previously intractable problems.

Universities will become deregulated as geographic and time boundaries disappear, thanks to new technologies. State boards of higher education will be unable to designate specific regions in which universities may, or may not, offer courses and programs. There will be no geographic boundaries.

– Problem-solving teams will be the rule.

– Immersion may become the educational paradigm. Visualization, rather than reading, could become the primary way we acquire knowledge.

– Educational barriers to all groups will be removed. Racial, ethnic and gender conflicts could be at least eased, because anybody with a computer will have access to higher education anywhere in the country. The technology developed for science and engineering that I have just described is going to have tremendous impact on all areas of inquiry and on education, itself.


This has been a sweeping overview. Are my forecasts correct? Although we cannot actually predict what will occur in ten years, I think we can define a “cone of probable outcomes.” I have attempted to do just that.


We do not know the rate of change, but the time scale for technological innovation in our society is much faster than in our universities. Our challenge is to act now so that we can control the changes the new technology will make in our institutions instead of allowing them to overwhelm us and cause changes we cannot control. It is only a very small wave right now. What we have to do is turn the bow of our boat into that approaching wave and not be broadside to it and rolled over by it.


I believe technology will dramatically change our lives. I think we have had the early warnings. Now, for our own well-being and for that of our institutions, we must provide solid, bold leadership to ensure that the change will be a positive – and not a negative – experience for higher education.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *