High Level Talks – Innovation in Higher Education


On 15 April 2021, MSM organized the second edition of the High Level Talks, focusing on Innovation in Higher Education, and bringing together high level leaders from Higher Education institutes in Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya and Uganda.

The Higher Education leaders highly valued the opportunity to network with peers and to learn from each other in these challenging times. They emphasized that MSM should continue to organize these sessions and considered the High Level Talk platform as a great forum for having discussions and sharing ideas.

The event started with a warm welcome by Dr. Diederik de Boer, MSM Director of Projects and Consultancies. Dr. de Boer briefly addressed the need for new forms of education and the impact this will have on higher education strategies, which was discussed in more detail during the High Level Talk. Under the moderation of Dr. Huub Mudde, Senior Consultant and the lead of Dr. Geert Heling, Professor of Organizational Behavior, the participants discussed challenges and opportunities that innovation in education entails.

As a starting point for the discussion, Prof. Heling briefly discussed how Higher Education is under pressure from different calls to action – from students, the business world, the community, public policy and disruptive technologies. He explained how there is a paradigm shift from teacher dominated education to student centered education. Prof. Heling addressed the challenges of multiple disruptions that lie ahead for leaders in Higher Education, and the question what the implication of these disruptions will be on the future of education. Referring to the first High Level Talk, he emphasized the importance of not losing sight on the mission and how to fulfill this mission in the dynamic of current developments.

Covid-19 accelerating digital transformation in Higher Education
All leaders recognized the challenges of and need for digital transformation as presented by Prof. Heling. In the past year, they have faced many challenges to transform their institutes – practically overnight – due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Challenges that vary from not being ready at all for online education, to having the ICT infrastructure in place but not optimally used, to the need for a mindset change among academic and administrative staff.

From the dialogue it was clear that despite the major challenges Covid-19 posed on the institutes, the Higher Education leaders above all considered the pandemic as a significant opportunity for transformation. In addition, the past year demonstrated that a good infrastructure is crucial and that  transformation goes beyond the application of technology.

Dealing with student satisfaction and staff engagement
Talking about how the leaders have been dealing with keeping the students satisfied and with engaging their staff in the new way of teaching, different ideas and creative approaches were presented, a few mentioned below.

To reduce student fatigue with online learning, student cohorts have been divided in different tracks that study alternately on-campus and online.  To solve connectivity problems, students had the opportunity to move from their home to hostels around the campus providing them access to good connectivity and infrastructure. More hotspots have been created on campus to enable students to mingle and meet Covid proof outside.

Staff has been trained in online teaching and the use of online platforms. Internet points have been implemented on campus and at the homes of staff to ensure smooth internet access, and support has been given to ensure the right environment to teach.

Adapting the content of education
Having the right infrastructure in place to support the new way of learning is important. But to prepare students for the future and to increase employability, there is also a strong need to adjust the curricula. A close link with the private sector was mentioned many times in this perspective. From bringing in businesspeople to teach practical subjects, to arranging internships for students within the private sector, to having faculty (mandatory) working as consultants in the business community. Also, the need to include technology related topics in the curricula, such as Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence was addressed.

Keeping the link with the community
To reinforce the role of the university in society, the institutes work in different ways to keep the link with their community. For instance, community-based education, where students work in and with the community to prioritize and solve problems, which the community is facing. Another example was teaching prisoners in entrepreneurship, to support the reintegration into society.

Looking towards the future
The second edition of the High Level Talk closed off with an optimistic view towards the future. Even though there are challenges to face and obstacles to overcome, the leaders embrace these full of energy, encouragement and confidence.

About the MSM High Level Talks
With the High Level Talks MSM brings together leaders within the MSM global network to share insights and discuss challenges about leadership. This platform provides an opportunity to meet other leaders and to learn from each other.

To guarantee full confidentiality before, during and after the High Level Talk, the events are held under the Chatham House Rule, implying that neither the identity nor the affiliation of the participants are revealed beyond the meeting itself.