Reengineering higher education- can it be done?

Yossi Raanan


Higher education is rapidly going through major changes. These changes are evident in almost every aspect of its activity, from enrollment thorough graduation rates, from budget cuts to public demands for more transparency and more accountability, from students' demands to marketing, and more. These fast-occurring changes produce pressures on the institutions of higher education to adapt to them.  These pressures are coming both from inside higher education and from the outside. They are local pressures, on specific institutions and more comprehensive pressures, on the whole system of higher education. Since the pressures carry with them the risk of having profound impact on the institutions, the institutions are trying to adapt to them as well as possible. Organizational improvement approaches vary in scope, and offer a variety of effects and risks. Reengineering, an approach made famous in 1993 in a seminal book by Hammer and Champy, is one of the most daring and far-reaching improvement methodology, one that carries with it the potential of great rewards but also of grave risks. Consequently, it is used less frequently than other improvement approaches or organizational change methods. Yet, when major changes seem inevitable, it is an approach that merits serious consideration. Higher education, generally, is quite conservative and change-resistant. Therefore, it is not surprising that reengineering attempts are not commonly tried, at least not on the academic side. Recently, this seems to be changing, as more authors advocate its use on higher education institutions. The critical question now is whether this approach can succeed in higher education, on its academic operations. The authors who advocate using this approach think it is worthwhile undertaking. That is probably true for individual institutions – if done right, with the proper planning, with the absolutely critical top management strong and unyielding support, and with the right budget. The question this paper raises is the macro-level question: can we reengineer the higher education industry? Can we, as a society, reshape this important human activity so it can withstand the external and internal pressures being brought to bear on it, and still deliver the great service it has delivered for a millennium? This paper addresses these issues and tries to provide an answer.


reengineering; higher education; disruption; risk; improvement approaches

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