These are not easy times for higher education institutions. Colleges and universities (regardless of their size, nature and location) are under pressure to meet growing societal demands for producing the skilled workforce required for the 4th industrial revolution, while also forging the renewed citizenry needed for the legitimacy of the democratic system that has brought stability and progress for decades. The prospects for institutions that can’t operate under a model of “doing more with less”, and fail to run a lean business-academic model are dire. Recent projections show that during the next decade many more colleges will be forced to shut down due to their inability to adapt and respond effectively to the changing times.
So far, the implementation of modern managerial techniques has helped many institutions avoid disaster. However, improvements in management are not enough to ensure the long-term wellbeing of a higher education institution. It is imperative to take advantage of tools that are more in synch with the educational mission. Although the adoption of technology solutions coming from other industries like banking, health care, lodging, etc. can help improve efficiency and certain performance indicators, their main flaw is failure to recognize that faculty are at the core of the academic operation.
The professorate embodies the soul of the university and is the key component of the complex set of mechanisms that make it function. Unfortunately, most ERPs and HR systems deployed across higher education see faculty members as mere resources to be utilized at the lowest cost possible. This simplistic view of what faculty are and represent to an university is shortsighted and often makes management teams set performance goals that aim at driving efficiency, but miss the point on what higher education is really about.
Evidence shows that software solutions imported from other industries are not only imperfect and costly, but also fall short on several dimensions that are critical to a university’s success, namely: a) inadequate fit for purpose, because it disregards the underlying values and cultural underpinnings of the university; b) costly investments that can’t be recovered on a reasonable time horizon; c) sub-optimal integration with other university systems and applications, leading to redundancies, data duplication and organizational friction; and d) difficult and uneasy deployment processes that generate upfront rejection or silent resistance from faculty.
In contrast with systems imported from other industries, Academic Management Systems (AMS) are university-native and take into account the uniqueness of the university’s mission, academic-business model, and processes. AMS can help institutions substantially boost their academic and business performance. First, because it recognizes that faculty are at the center of the university’s operation, and can support its entire lifecycle, from faculty search and recruitment, to hiring, review and promotion. Second, in contrast with regular ERPs and other systems, AMS recognize that universities function because of faculty. It is not the brand name nor the facilities or endowments that make up a good university; it is faculty that are committed to teaching, conducting research and outreach activities while also coordinating critical academic activities, including quality assurance.
The following are a few attributes that a sound AMS must possess:
Academically focused: That is, designed for faculty and taking into account the centrality of its role to the university’s success.
Easy to use: Its design and UI ought to be intuitive and modeled upon regular human and professional behaviors that can be reinforced.
Proven efficiency gains and reduction of manual workload: Visible results in terms of time saved and quality of output gained during the different academic- business processes.
Reporting capabilities: Reliability, consistency and ample availability across institutional departments of information and key data for governance and decision-making.
Flexibility and customization: No one size fits all; an AMS must have the ability to learn from users’ input and create a virtuous cycle of improvement.
Cloud-based: Core to controlling costs, accessibility and security of the data.
Consistent and validated data across the faculty lifecycle: Derived from logic academic workflows that generate efficiencies and feed relevant data.
In our next entries, we will dive deeper into the characteristics of AMS and how it can impact the university’s operation. We will also share the fruit of our market research and make some recommendations.