Cornerstones in a Rapidly Changing Marketplace

Adapted from Presentation at the 2013 China International Education Conference – Beijing, China (November 1, 2013)

Slide 1 – Welcome slide

欢迎。它是好的,是在这个美好的国家,并在这座历史古  Huānyíng. Tā shì hǎo de, zài zhège měihǎo de guójiā zhè zuò lìshǐ míngchéng.*

Beijing China - Nov 1, 2013

Beijing China
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Good morning. My name is Kent MacDonald, President of Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest and most progressive post secondary institutions. I am certainly pleased to share this stage today with my colleagues from England, France, Germany and the United States. During my time, I hope to share a Canadian perspective on this important and timely topic.

*Note: Translation – Welcome.  It is nice to be back in this wonderful country and in this historical city.

Slide 2 – Map of Canada with various cities identified and Ottawa highlighted.

Algonquin College’s main campus is in Ottawa, the National Capital of Canada.  We have been very fortunate to have many Chinese students and dignitaries visit our campus over the years and so it is nice to be back in China and to see some old friends.

Slide 3 – Multiple pictures of Ottawa and an Ottawa Senators hockey player

Ottawa is blessed with a variety of attractions and there is plenty to do to keep active. Our Rideau Canal attracts tens of thousands of visitors in the summer and in the winter.  Our city is clean, safe and attracts people from around the world.  It is very diverse on many levels and I would welcome you to visit us at some time in the future.   I can also tell you – and my colleagues from Toronto, Montreal and British Columbia and other parts of the country can attest to this – that Ottawa is also home to Canada’s greatest profession ice hockey team! I would also welcome you to come cheer them on and experience a real Canadian tradition if you come our way.

Slide 4 – Pictures of Algonquin’s Ottawa – Pembroke – Perth Campus

Algonquin College has over 20,000 students and has its main campus in Ottawa.  However we also have two new campuses serving other parts of Eastern Ontario including a new campus in Pembroke on the shores of the Ottawa River.  A beautiful campus that is less than two hours from Ottawa and renowned for its outdoor training programs. Our second new campus is in the historical town of Perth, just a short 50-minute drive from Ottawa.  This campus has niche programming including advanced housing; a program that I will mention later this morning.

Slide 5 – Pictures of China – India – Montenegro – Saudi Arabia – Kuwait

Algonquin has embraced internationalization as a key component of our strategic plan.  We currently have over 1000 international students with us in Canada including several hundred from China.  Our international students in Canada represent 117 countries of the world.  However our international commitment does not stop in Canada. Today, we are delivering programs here in China as well as India and Montenegro.  This fall, we opened a campus in Jazan on the southwest coast of Saudi Arabia.  Next Fall, 2014 we will be operating a campus in Kuwait.

These offshore efforts allow Algonquin to extend its mission to provide a digitally connected, applied learning experience for students around the world.  We have always believed – we continue to believe, that education is the single most important investment a government and individuals can make to improve the economic and social condition of a country, a region and an individual.  We believe that it is an education that determines what rung an individual and a country will stand on the societal and development ladder.  Doing international work is not easy, however in time we believe it will change the lives of people who walk through our doors, regardless of where those doors may be located.

Slide 6 – Embrace Financial Realities

I must say, as a college president in Ontario, that the financial realities we face are not positive.  In Ontario, once Canada’s most prosperous province, remarkably we receive the least amount of funding per student than any province in Canada. Having said this, I can tell you that working in these times of scarce resources has helped make Ontario colleges to be more innovative, more entrepreneurial and we continue to do great things even with our low level of public support.  This innovative spirit will also be picked up later this morning.

Slide 7 – Starting Point – Purpose

Why Do Colleges Exist?  Kent MacDonald 2013

Why Do Colleges Exist?
Kent MacDonald 2013

It is my intent this morning to share with you four broad strategies that all colleges should use and execute to ensure their institutions remain current, relevant and meet the needs of the industry that they serve.  In my view these strategies are – if not transferable – at least generalizable to other jurisdictions around the world including I believe your countries.

Let me position Algonquin for this discussion by bringing you back to an address I provided at our Spring Convocation of this year.  At that time I told our graduating students of comments made at another Canadian institution – a university; an excellent university.  There, a senior leader told the graduating students that it was the purpose of the university to prepare students to explore their own personal cosmos. Quite frankly, as I told our graduating students, I am not even certain what that means.  But I was certain of one thing: that is not the purpose of Algonquin College.  We are clear in our mission; we are much less vague.  Our purpose is to provide students will relevant and timely skills – to give them the practical knowledge required to get a job. When we do this, we provide industry with world-class talent; talent that will help those firms be successful and sustainable and help make our communities more prosperous.

Slide 8 – Change-Adept Colleges – 4 Cornerstones of Success

Change Adept Colleges - 4 Cornerstones Kent MacDonald - 2013

Change Adept Colleges – 4 Cornerstones
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Roseabeth Moss Kanter, holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard.  In her book Frontiers of Management she suggested that only change-adept organizations would survive in a hyper-competitive market. Organizations must continuously innovate and perform.  I agree with Kanter and extend this position to our environment – to change-adept colleges. Colleges that are change-adept are more nimble, more flexible and more able to respond to a rapidly changing marketplace.

We need colleges that are change-adept more than ever. Change is very difficult and I agree with the old maxim that change always looks like failure in the middle. The ability to persevere, overcome the pundits shouting loudly from the sidelines – and there is always a group who are more comfortable being observers – will be better positioned for long-term success and sustainability. Algonquin’s innovation is led by our faculty and staff. Yet as these innovators bring ideas forward, there is always a minority who  are more comfortable simply criticizing.  Leadership to persevere is important and this is a third item I will address later.

The Four Cornerstones

This morning I am going to share with you what I believe are 4 Cornerstones of Marketplace Responsiveness that are practiced by high performing colleges.  I define this responsiveness as colleges that provide relevant programs and services and also prepare graduates who have the skills required by industries that are operating in a marketplace that is shifting faster than we often recognize.

Slide 9 –  #1 Enable Corporate and Community Integration

We have college leaders here this morning from over 50 countries around the world.  I suspect that every one of you have had some mechanism to link your applied learning and programs to industry. Like you, Algonquin College does this through advisory committees and meetings with industry representatives. This is is the first cornerstone.  It is the most traditional and I want to introduce four specific strategies that may help you do it better.

Slide 10 – The Corporate and Community Integration Model  

There are four key strategies that I will touch on in this model.  When implemented collectively, these four strategies bring enhanced insight into industry needs, provide deeper learning for our students and have the opportunity to accrue tangible benefits back to your college. Lets look at these strategies in this slide.

Corporate and Community Integration  Kent MacDonald - 2013

Corporate and Community Integration Model
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Experiential Learning  Whether we call it co-op, work integrated learning, work placement, learning experiences or some other name, we cannot ignore what we know as educators.  That is, that providing experiential learning opportunities to our students, in the field, in the lab or in the community, will enhance our understanding of the industry and provide our students richer learning opportunities.

At Algonquin, our commitment is to provide every full time student with a learning experience out of the classroom – in the community.  This picture (photo provided) shows our students whitewater kayaking.  These are our outdoor adventure students and half their learning occurs at our outdoor training centre at Wilderness Tours, one of Canada’s preeminent adventure companies.  This photo (photo provided) is Algonquin’s entry into the US Dept. of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Housing Championships.  A home designed, engineered and built by our students in a number of different academic programs.  They did well – placing 6th just one spot behind their student colleagues from Stanford University.

Colleges must work more closely with industry and public organizations.  In my view we should make experiential learning opportunities mandatory. This learning benefits students and it provides important insight to the college in order to adapt programs and help them better understand the markets they serve.

Applied Research – Research is done in many colleges and universities.  I could argue that all research in the end becomes applied, but that is not what I am speaking about today.  Applied research at Algonquin College means applying the latest knowledge and technologies in the creation of useful products, services and processes.  Applied research means linking faculty – staff – students with industry.  It often involves prototype development, feasibility studies, clinical trials, technical consultation and market research for business, industry and community partners. Basic research is important yet applied research goes beyond discovering new academic knowledge.  It also helps ensure your college understands current needs of industry as well as look beyond the headlights to see what is coming around the corner.

People Development – When we recruit faculty, we seek to find people who can be good teachers who also bring real-world, practical experience into the classroom.  I like to remind people there is nothing quite like when a professor tells her students to put their pens down – to stop keying for a moment, so that she can share an experience from the real world; a world that is very important to understand if we are going to fully put into practice, the benefits of applied learning.

When we can connect our faculty and staff back into industry, we know they are going to return to their first love while also becoming reacquainted to the needs of industry. At Algonquin our semesters are 15 weeks in length, providing committed faculty the opportunity to return to industry of their choice and spend time re-tooling their knowledge and skills. Further, we provide many sabbaticals every year for the same purpose.  It is important to bring industry into the college yet it is equally powerful when we bring faculty into industry.

Capital Resources – One area that colleges are significantly under-funded is in the area of capital equipment and facilities renewal.  This year, Algonquin’s budget is over $325 million, we have nearly $40 million in deferred maintenance and yet we are funded with just over $500,000 for capital.  We can complain about this or we can choose to take matters into our own hands.  At Algonquin, we choose the latter.

Getting close to industry does not resemble a one-way street, rather when you create strong relationships with industry, we receive as much as we give.  This includes donations of goods and services that we would not otherwise receive.  Annual donations of equipment can total millions of dollars for Algonquin College and it allows for our faculty to have excellent conversations with our corporate partners.  They are exposed to new technologies; new equipment, new practices and new expectations for graduates.

Slide 11 – Hundreds of Organizations and Companies

It is important to note that in all of these examples, the integration of a college in a community also includes not-for-profit and government organizations. That is, this is not simply a relationship between the private sector and colleges. This integration includes hundreds of companies and public organizations for Algonquin College. On each of these four key strategies, colleges accrue the many benefits of corporate and community integration.

Slide 12 –  #2 Enhance Program Review

Let me shift into the three cornerstones that are less obvious and not as widely used as the corporate and community integration concepts I have just mentioned.

The first of these is critically important if we are going to maintain relationships and reputation in the community.  There has been some suggest that colleges are not shifting as quickly as the marketplace and therefore colleges and polytechnics are not staying abreast of the needs of public and private organizations.  This is fundamentally a question of curricula. We are very good at creating new courses and programs but we are less effective in enhancing and even cancelling programs and courses.

Enhance Program Review - Harvard Case Study Kent MacDonald - 2013

Enhance Program Review – Harvard Case
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Today I believe most colleges need to greatly enhance their program review process.  How is it that you are absolutely confident that your course content is meeting the needs of industry?  A robust program review strategy is the mechanism you can implement to ensure this renewal occurs.  I have added a link to the Algonquin College programs and services planning website on this slide.  Please have a look at the resources that are there – this is our commitment to open educational resources. There are literally hundreds of pages of text and video and templates that you can use to move your college more dramatically down the path of program review. Further, I would encourage you to visit the Harvard University website you see on this slide to review their latest case study – Evaluating Programs and Services at Algonquin College.

In all of these program and curricula reviews, we must include industry partners. I encourage you to listen to these partners, embrace them, allow them to tell us what is happening in their markets and what the ongoing and emerging needs are. These conversations with industry partners provide us the gift of insight that will help your college remain on the forefront of timely learning needs.

Slide 13 –  #3 Innovate for a New Demand

Colleges have had a long history of success. However with all the change we have seen in the marketplace, it is important to reconsider an important question related to our purpose.  The question I ask educators is, “Does a college exist for the purpose of instruction or does a college exist for the purpose of learning?”  In my view it is the latter.  If we begin to see our work as that of creating opportunities to learn, it liberates our traditional approach to teaching and instruction.

We have seen many changes over the years in which we felt this would change what it is that we do in higher education.  However, for all accounts, there has been little change in our sector, particularly from established institutions.  Distance learning started to take place around 1870 and it did not reach an acceptance point until 1970s.  This acceptance was largely driven by the Open University in the UK.  However, the acceptance rate of learning based upon digital technologies has been almost instant relative to the 100 years it took us to accept distance learning. The opportunity we have before us as a result of digital technologies is significant.

Digital technology has broken a 2000 year practice whereby we believed the best learning occurred when there was a professor at the front of the class. This can be effective but is not an exclusive approach to achieve quality learning. Closer relationships with industry allow us to deliver training at the workplace, in real time and at scale.  It also allows us to provide training to the desktop. We can easily embed links to emerging trends, upload video and connect students to the marketplace using digital conference technologies. I have seen our Music Production students having conversations with music leaders who were not in Canada nor North America. This gives us insight we could not have had a decade ago.

Closer relationships with industry can bring changes in the way we develop our learning spaces and design our buildings. This photo of the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence is but one example of the benefits that can accrue as a result of a closer relationship with industry (Photo provided). This LEED Platinum building has helped us redesign the way we deliver programming.   It is not a building that the construction sector views as belonging solely to Algonquin. They believe it is partly theirs; a place to hold meetings, to recruit students, to conduct applied research and to receive ongoing professional development and corporate training.

At Algonquin we also have a fund that encourages innovation for this new demand. We now make $200,000 available for faculty and staff to innovate the way they do their craft. In many cases, these employees connect with industry to test-drive an idea. We are committed to a closer relationship with industry because that is where breakthrough innovations can occur. In the end, we both benefit.

Slide 14 –  #4 Create a Different Leader

The Preemptive College - © Kent MacDonald (2012)   Kent MacDonald - 2013

The Preemptive College – © K. MacDonald
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Let me end with the fourth cornerstone.  This cornerstone is based partly on my own research of leadership in high performing colleges and it is something that I use in evaluating who we are going to attract and promote at Algonquin. These are new times for us in higher education. To accomplish the three cornerstones shared this morning, we need a different kind of leader. I won’t go into each of these traits on this slide simply due to time, however as you can see on the slide, I contend educational leaders today must be externally focused – entrepreneurially inclined – trust oriented and practice proficient leadership; a skill that will positively create the change required to compete in today’s unique marketplace. This preemptive leadership must accept the paradox of higher education that what has made us successful today does not guarantee success tomorrow.

Slide 15 –  Change-Adept Colleges

Change - Adept Colleges Kent MacDonald - 2013

Change – Adept Colleges
Kent MacDonald – 2013

Let me conclude this morning with this summary slide. I believe, that the need for colleges to integrate with industry has never been greater. It has never been greater because the marketplace has become more competitive and is experiencing an every-increasing rate of change.

Today I suggest that every college must focus on Enabling Corporate and Community Integration – Enhancing Program Review – Innovate for a New Demand and Develop Preemptive Leaders. If we do these correctly, we will be better able to respond to the communities we are meant to serve.  They are counting on us.

If we do build on these cornerstones, we will better understand the needs of industry and when we do that, the ultimate benefactors are our students.  Could there be a  better reason?

Thank you. 谢谢

TY Slide


About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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