Efficient Design and Delivery of Higher Education Service

Patrick Harker, president of the University of Delaware was interviewed based on his commentary “Making Sense of Higher Education’s Future: An Economics and Operations Perspective” published in Service Science. (On a side note, Service Science is an interdisciplinary field that aims at studying and improving service systems. My dissertation focused on developing a curriculum for a master’s program in engineering and management. Service Science is supported by IBM.)
Harkin borrows from the principles of operations management and characteristics of services to argue for a change in the design and delivery of education. From operations management, we know that design of the service or product drives its performance, as it is influences the cost structures and delivery constraints. “Design determines how competitive it is in the marketplace. A great design delivers efficient value to customers or clients.”


efficiency of higher education services and cost reduction

Harkin argues that one of the limitations of design of education services is that we “we assume teaching is the same as learning” and with the increasing cost pressures and the emergence of online alternatives, this assumption is being called into question. “Too much variety in learning modalities disrupts our highly optimized, highly engineered teaching system.”

The solution to squeeze cost out of this design is by changing the delivery model. Harkin asserts that “To better deliver our value proposition—to design a university that truly creates lifelong learners—will require a major change in both pedagogical concept and method. Instead of engineering teaching-efficient factories, we need to engineer learning-efficient ones.”
We know from the nature of services that “customers/clients of the service are actively involved in its production.” Thus, “focusing the design of such service delivery processes on making the customer highly efficient is one of the keys to success. Translated to the university environment, this means a greater emphasis on learning, as opposed to teaching.”
What student learns (curriculum) and how it is delivered is central to improving the learning processes and achieving the economies of scale. “The use of MOOCs or other online and interactive learning platforms seems worthy of consideration to deliver the basic courses in our curricula, which then allows us to free up faculty time to teach the advanced seminars, supervise undergraduate research projects, and provide the much-needed coaching and mentoring for our students.”
I have previously written that the confluence of cost and funding pressures, technology-enabled learning innovations and new paradigms of quality and teaching, will further force universities to redefine their value. This will become a theme of increasing conversation among university leaders who are developing or assessing their internationalization strategies. More questions will be raised about making strategic choices between high cost, infrastructure heavy branch campuses vs. flexible, innovative and low cost engagement strategies through technology/online learning.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha (Author)

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