Exploring global research institutes

The creation of more autonomous research institutes out of academic institutions resembles the lifting of "value-added processes" out of "disjointed solution shops" that The Innovator's Prescription recommends for many facets of the health care industry. The training of the next generation of scientists, researchers, technicians, technologists and engineers needs a business model focused separately from undergraduate institutions. The education of technical disciplines can be achieved more efficiently, effectively and economically by separating it from the three other domains I'm foreseeing.

These research institutes will serve a worldwide community of common and cross disciplinary expertise. Their mission-driven approach will raise the sights of everyone down in the trenches of tasks, obstacles and budget constraints. Their global outreach will add purpose, significance and context to everyone's work. The internal atmosphere, culture and collegiality will predictably yield greater creativity, collaborations and trusting transparency. There will be increased sharing of findings compared to insular, bureaucratic silos. Serving this global community will keep the value proposition in mind and make it easier to pursue business model innovations when facets of the work flow become more predictable and precise. These institutes will outperform their predecessor institutions at attracting research grants, project funds and government partnerships to further advance mutual interests with the global community. There's a paradoxical quality to the space these institutes will inhabit: both more isolated from the campus academic community and more connected to the worldwide research community.

The acquisition of technical expertise seems to naturally create comparisons, rivalries and survival of the fittest among the students. Evaluation can be normative and objective because comprehension is usually revealed by flawless execution of methods. This portion of academia can easily support a zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating. The education process functions as a selective filter to identify the "elite commandoes". It stress tests the students to discover who has the right stuff to perform under pressure. An innovative approach to providing this expertise would be mistaken to lose this functionality. I expect the institutes will maintain all the trappings of academic metrics of student achievement: tests, extra credit, retests, grades, GPA's, transcripts, and cum laude recognition.

The nature of technical expertise also makes the undergraduate education ripe for automation. This appears to me as an opportunity for a national organization to develop expert training systems, online tutorials, multi-player games, and immersive simulations that cultivate all the prerequisite capabilities. The production of expertise can emulate the best practices of six sigma manufacturers. The automated process can be "standard issue" for each technical discipline just as SAT/ACT tests are for college admission. Alternatively, the components could be developed in keeping with open source software development, Wikinomics and Crowdsourcing. This dramatically reduces the cost of the current labor-intensive, redundant course development and delivery. It frees up the faculty to follow their passion and do more research which serves the mission of the institute that employs them.

It's expected that each institute will serve as a spawning ground for technical breakthroughs and innovative start-ups. The culture of innovation can be nurtured in ways that cannot occur amidst the stifling effects of academic bureaucracies. The institutes will also breed a population of consultants, advisors and industry analysts that thrive in the horizontal space connecting all the vertically integrated private enterprises and government agencies.

It remains to be seen where the innovation of global research institutes proves to be sustaining or disruptive for the academic institutions. The laboratory, prototyping and testing facilities for numerous disciplines on campus encourages a sustaining approach to innovation. In that case, there would be economies of scale and bundled value propositions to students. Continued use would be made of registrar, facilities maintenance and administrative services. The enrolled students would benefit from the campus facilities, socializing, and extra-curricular activities. However, industry or government affiliates may offer their own facilities for faculty/grad student use. Then the teaching could migrate to off-campus institutes, just as management training is flocking to corporate universities. The departure would disrupt the distribution of a university's massive overhead burden across all its academic departments on campus. The cost to the enrolled students would become unacceptable. Revenue would decline and institutions would collapse.

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