Archive 27/02/2024.

Universities as Idea Factories



This map shows one of the functions of a University, showing how academics have constraints removed to allow for space for research. This may be published and used freely, or patented.

If patented, the patent may be licensed by companies looking to create new products, or disrupt current markets. Universities also have spin out companies. These are not intended to produce products, but to take ideas to the edge of product (I’m thinking similar to complicated in Cynefin). The idea is that these companies are sold, and then the academics are recycled back to having ideas. In this way the University stays in the domain it is strongest in.

I’m thinking this is the Cynefin dynamics purple loop.

Please comment with ideas or corrections. This map is intended to promote discussion.



I’m really interested in the topics at Simon and Dave’s upcoming Masterclass :slight_smile: There are a lot more links between the models.



when I look at your maps (both, from this post, and from Map of University Undergraduate Education), it becomes apparent what kind of challenges are in front of universities. While I do not live in UK, the major problem is the same - we had a university boom, when it was much easier to get a reasonable job with a degree than without it.

This caused 50% of population to study, which caused an educational bubble, and it is about to burst as people realised that you no longer have to have a degree to get a reasonable job. Naturally, a degree often stays a critical requirement in some sectors (health, law), but increasingly it becomes unnecessary effort if you can follow an alternative route.

Across the past couple of decades, some study fields become a job trainings. They were not (and still are not) expected to let you study a field of your interest, but rather focus on practical skills that can be monetised immediately after graduation, or even before. This user need is a subject to disruption (nanodegrees, different career paths) and I am afraid this is nothing we can do. Frankly, I do not think we should do anything at all, as majority (I think) graduates does not need to study.

But that means universities main income source will cease to exist. In the case of UK - private tuition fees are being redirected elsewhere, in Poland - state pays for a student, less students -> less income for the university. Which is a huge problem.

One direction here would be to embrace the no-degree path. Start mooc, and employment-oriented short and affordable courses. Of course, there is a question of the market size, user needs, etc… plenty of learning.

Also, this disruption forces universitites to the position where I think they should be - doing true research which later can be commercialised. But I can see a huge pitfall there - an expectation that the university will be capable to earn enough by selling innovations is a very bold one. It assummes that the university is capable of predicting which research can be commercialised and, what is more problematic, the time between research and commercialisation is relatively short.

I would say that if targeted research could be achieved today, we would already had companies doing it repeatably. But I fail to observe them - businesses appear around an idea, and live as long as the market niche is there. Then they fail to reinvent themselves (find a new niche) and die. There is a couple of exceptions (Nokia), but even those went out of businesses eventually. I do not see it working for universities.

Universities, however, bring enormous value in building contact network (if you do not have one). I am not sure, though, if there is any competition in this space from non-university organisations. I can think of meetups and other gatherings serving exactly same purpose.

Finally, I think we should get back to a central funding of a research. Decide apriori how much risk we are willing to take (% of GDP), and how much of this should go into research expected to improve common well-being in a distant future (Genesis), and how much should go, if at all, into improving existing solutions (easier to commercialise).


Hi Krzysztof,
Thanks for the feedback.
I agree about a degree being unnecessary for learning skills for work. If the future looked like the past few years, there would be a very strong argument for a non university route.
With the coming AI revolution that may hit IT, medical diagnosis and other tradition University vocations hard the future of employment needing just needing some teachable skills is unclear. We may be just teaching a machine, rather than people?

Also the AI ethics issue means in the future people may want skills to make decisions - something University can do in person, that may not translate well online.

Any decrease in students numbers could hit Universities hard, and this funding may help provide the physical and social environment for the research work, along with keeping the bills paid in between paid research.

Targeted research already happens, with research universities partnering on research (maybe moving the novel into the potential product more than a blank cheque to have a think). I

I think this is where parts of the University Sector helps a country, and the locality needs to understood and articulated by Universities so they can win both public and political support. That’s a battle they are currently losing.

It’s an areas where cynefins ‘parallel safe to fail’ experiments would is necessary - although the traditional yearly feedback and improvement cycle for universities is orders of magnitude slower than their online competitors.

What is also on the Undergrad map is the potential students need for transformation - and how the university city, other students and wider environment provides this. Online study in a bedroom in your parents house won’t provide this.

Interesting times ahead.