CUCA II - Change Management - Managing Change: The Social, Economic and ICT factors driving change in the Ontario post-secondary education


Task: Respond to the question: What are the social, economic and other factors driving change in post-secondary education and your particular area?.

Although a revolution will not be easy as it starts with unlearning the methods of the past and embracing a student-centric future while mitigating the risks of exploring a relatively uncharted path forward in a time of great instability.
— Jeremy McQuigge

In thinking about the construct of managing change and then adding in the complexities of post-secondary education (PSE) institutions there are, at times, situations that institutions simply must endure. William Fredrick Book takes that idea a step further and encourages those managing change to “trying to alter or correct conditions so that they are most favorable to [us] you”. The Canadian landscape of PSE is changing at a pass that is near impossible to stay abreast of let alone in front of. Three notable shifts bringing disruption and opportunities for innovation are social, economic, and information communication technology (ICT) factors.

In each of these factors the work of both Kay Hempsall and Scott, Coates & Anderson are evident. Particularly the Academic Leadership Capability Framework established by Scott et al.. Keeping this framework in mind and adding-in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) as expressed by Johansen (2007, 2009) the daunting reality of what lays in front of PSE leaders to navigate as they look steer their institutions forward in this ever-changing landscape.

Social: Finding a focus in a changing population

Hempsall (2014) set-ups the juxtaposition between transformational leadership – what PSE leaders are conceiving and articulating as their long-term vision and yet at the same time being driving by transactional leadership – day-to-day management activities mapped to performance contracts. As the population base shifted over the last decade with a declining birthrate the result has been an Ontario K-12 education system reassign the number of schools it has due to high levels of vacant classrooms. Shifting economic pressures means looking abroad for a higher fee paying international student or recruiting more elusive non-direct students who need retraining or knowledge advancement to thrive in evolving work of the private sector. With so many audiences demanding varying services, and academic requirements the system has struggled to find a voice. From a student perspective the PSE landscape is more VUCA than ever. Colleges are offering degrees, Universities are offering more experiential learning with more undergraduates having access to research and vocational training labs. This shifting audience is further complicated by “changes to funding models, increased public scrutiny, dealing with continuous change, inadequate administrative processed and finding retaining high-quality staff” (Scott et al., 2008, p.xiii). Nonhomogeneous PSEs enrich the entire learning process and assist students with their development through the vectors of development from young-adulthood to adulthood, particularly around professional relationships and intercultural interactions (Chickering and Reisser, 1993). However, this has caused a significant delta in the vision that PSE can serve several diverse and complex groups of students and the transactional leadership of actually managing reality of those broad sweeping statements.

Economic: Shifting to a user-pay system

The observation from the journal Natural raises and interesting point about user-pay systems in PSE but also between the societal roles of colleges and universities, “driving universities to compete for fee-paying students runs the risk of reshaping universities as sites of vocational training rather than as places of higher learning” (Nature, 2003). Colleges have opted to shift from their community college roots, although in Ontario there is still legislation holding them to their access mandate, because enrollment reports showed the largest gains across the system were in degrees. College degrees, Graduate Certificates and far-reaching international recruitment has held up considerable resources including the capacities of most senior leaders and left some populations without transformational or transactional leadership. The idea that in PSE employees work for students is an interesting new paradigm. When the student, or in this case a user, is contributing more than 50% of the tuition costs there is a certain obligation that comes with that reality. However, at the end of the day Presidents have a transactional obligation to their boards to balance the books of their schools. Connecting back to Book’s notion about correcting the conditions to be the most favorable, PSEs should be looking to each population group / demographic as an opportunity to leverage the best of each cohort and deliver an educational experience that have a clear vision of alignment to the institutions mission and vision and has supportive transactional leadership delivering a high-quality experience in service of the learners who has selected their institution of learning.

ICT: Just-in-time, Just-for-me

Information Communication Technology (ICT) is evolving at a rate that is unprecedented in human history. The effects of that evolution have already disrupted several industries including hospitality, commerce, real-estate, transportation and of course manufacturing. ITC poses a unique challenge to PSE leadership because it is often difficult for organizations to get in front of a digital trend. The process of procuring, contextualizing, training and deploying solutions is a high risk, medium reward (if it is delivered well). Yet the advancements in ICT have empowered individuals around the world creating an amateur professional. Looking to the private sector for inspiration the advancements around just-in-time delivery systems created by the Wal-Mart corporation demonstrates how an organization can foresee a change they will have to endure and leverage it into a competitive advantage. PSE has scattered examples of efforts in online programs, badging, stack programs, open degrees you can name yourself and of course the arrival of MOOCs. However, each of these things are often disconnected on a campus. Yet the user is looking for a menu of options to serve how they are needing to learn. Managing the required change in this factor is as much about moving forward as it is to unlearn. PSE leaders need to unlearn what they know about educational delivery and relearn what is possible.

Final Thoughts

The knowledge era requires an evolution to the way the most senior PSE positions are defined, staffed and evaluated. The Academic Leadership Capability Framework goes a long way in establishing a baseline to work with however to more simply state the need, the system requires Change Leaders. Those who can leverage their own intelligence to solve the problems facing their own division but also the larger institution. There is a strong argument for communities of learning rather than institutional divisions. No longer can divisions work in silos to solve the VUCAs facing their community because students do not see those lines in their experiences. As Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently expressed in his TedTalk Bring on the Learning Revolution we need a revolution not an evolution of the PSE institution.  Although a revolution will not be easy as it starts with unlearning the methods of the past and embracing a student-centric future while mitigating the risks of exploring a relatively uncharted path forward in a time of great instability. But “the new mindset is to exploit change before it victimizes us” (Fullan M, 2007).


Chickering, A. W., and Reisser, L. (1993). Education and Identity, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Hempsall, K. Developing Leadership in higher education: perspectives from the USA, the UK and Australia. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 2014, 36 (4), 383-394.

Johansen, B. (2007). Get there early: Sensing the future to compete in the present. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Johansen, B. (2009). Leaders make the future: Ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Nature. (2003, May 29). Pursuing Diversified Universities. Nature, 423(465). doi:10.1038/423465a.

Scott, G., Coates, H. & Anderson, M.  Learning Leaders in times of change: Academic Leadership Capabilities for Australian Higher Education. University of Western Sydney and Australian Council for Educational Research, 2008.

Jeremy McQuigge

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada