I heard on the radio someone says that the only way one could change something in South Africa is to disrupt like taxis blocking the N2 or a week-long stayaway from work. Is that true? Do we want to resort to negative disruptions to create the future we want? I hope not.
I would like to think that we at Stellenbosch University are in the box office seats to create the future we aspire to, the university of the future, which will be more flexible, personalised, collaborative, and technology-driven than traditional universities. A place where we will prioritise the development of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which are essential for success in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world.
I spoke to our IT colleagues recently and shared with them what ChatGPT generated for me when I typed in words: "Explain how the university of the future will look".
"The university of the future is likely to be characterized by several key features, including:
Online and hybrid learning: Universities are likely to offer more online and hybrid learning options, with greater flexibility for students to learn at their own pace and in their own time. This will also enable more students to access education, regardless of their location or schedule.
Personalisation: The university of the future will likely use advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to personalize learning experiences for each student. This will involve tailoring curriculum and teaching methods to each student's individual needs and preferences, making education more engaging and effective.
Interdisciplinary focus: With the increasing complexity of the world's problems, universities will likely focus more on interdisciplinary education, encouraging students to explore and integrate knowledge across different fields and disciplines.
Collaborative learning: The university of the future will likely emphasize collaborative learning, with students working together on projects and assignments both in-person and online.
Virtual and augmented reality: The use of virtual and augmented reality technologies in education is expected to increase, allowing students to experience simulated environments and interact with digital objects, enhancing their learning experiences.
Lifelong learning: The university of the future is likely to place a greater emphasis on lifelong learning, providing education and training opportunities to individuals throughout their careers, as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate.
I see our core challenge for higher education in achieving two things: high impact and efficient scale. I would like to summarise it with the acronym HESU - a high-impact, efficient, scalable university.
This year we struggled to find housing for our students, given the curveball from NSFAS putting a cap on accommodation fees. For uncertainties like these incidents, we must find efficient scalability as we expand our impact.
Scalability refers to an organisation's ability to perform well under an increased or expanded workload. It means we need to work smarter (not just harder) to face the increased demand. That we do this through process innovation, standardisation, and algorithmic thinking, and applying technology. Modern technology allows us to achieve personalised experiences if the technological application is sufficiently algorithmic, just like ChatGPT.
For this future, we need to be customer-centric: designing our processes with the students and staff members who will be using it in mind. The human experience is at the centre of design thinking: the concept where we work backwards from what the customer wants and not forward from the perspective of an outsider consultant or specialist.
There is no such thing as the best solution without considering cost-efficiency. I never want to hear a design solution of a project plan where cost is not part of every decision. There is a trade-off, colleagues and you and I are co-responsible for every time we spend in this university. We should be very concerned if we ever spend resources on a solution that is sub-optimally used thereafter.
HESU will require substantial adjustment and change management for the entire university. Let me leave you with two lessons for change management:
Firstly, make sure you understand the problem by doing at least the following:
· Get key stakeholders involved;
· Find a change agent to drive the process; and
· Ensure you can answer the why question regarding the change you want to effect? As well as all the other details in your strategy.
Secondly, create a sense of urgency:
· This is an act of persuasion. It is you who must motivate the organisation to change with you.
Many (even most) attempts at change management fail here at these two points. It is your responsibility to persuade the organisation; it is a sobering lesson that most change leaders under-communicate.
Colleagues, I want to roll up my sleeves to work with you as we realise a high-impact efficient, and scalable Stellenbosch University. It cannot be done without you. It must be done.
Stan du Plessis
COO: Stellenbosch University