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David Zaharchuk

David Zaharchuk, Research Lead, IBV

A new study from IBM’s Institute for Business Value uncovers some sobering news on the state of higher education. Of the nearly 1,000 academic and business leaders surveyed, 51 percent believe the current higher education system fails to meet the needs of students while nearly 60 percent believe it fails to meet the needs of industry. The Smarter Planet blog caught up with David Zaharchuk, Research Lead, IBV, and one of the lead authors of the new study, to get some perspective on these findings and learn what might be done to enable higher education systems to remain viable.

Smarter Planet: It’s clear from these numbers that the value of the traditional higher education model is being questioned by the very people who are shaping it. Why?
David Zaharchuk: Higher education is absolutely in a state of transition. Leaders identified a number of challenges as to why the system is struggling. Not surprisingly, funding is paramount. Nearly 60 percent said higher education cannot obtain adequate funding to drive success. But they also say that failing to provide engaging and relevant education experiences is another top problem. And finally, they feel that delivery models and curriculum are misaligned with the needs of industry and society – they’re not creating relevant curriculum and pedagogy that’s preparing students with the skills they need to join the workforce after graduation.

But, it’s important to note that while these stakeholders believe the system is failing to meet the core needs of students, employers and society in general, they are optimistic for the future. In fact, more than half of those surveyed believe that over the next five years, higher education will prepare students with the skills they need, positioning them to find employment and meeting the demands of industry.

SP: What will be the critical factors to success?
DZ: Today, the speed of technological innovation and industry demands are moving much faster than higher education’s ability to keep up. Students, businesses and higher educational institutions themselves are suffering as a result of this transformation gap. Higher education needs to shift from incremental improvement to fundamental systemic transformation.

SP: What does this transformation look like?
DZ: Higher education institutions need to do a better job equipping students with the skills they need to be effective employees and competitive in the workforce. To improve employability, higher education needs to become more practical and applied. Those surveyed overwhelmingly agree that providing experienced based learning, focusing on the knowledge of skills and practical learning is critical to address the current performance gaps.

Part of this transformation in curriculum and learning will be rooted in the partnerships and alliances institutions can and should build with industry partners.  We’re seeing success already in this area with the emergence of new education models like Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH). Programs like PTECH are reinventing education.

In addition to refocusing educational experiences and building an ecosystem with industry partners, the opportunity exists for higher education to embrace technology to improve outcomes. Technology change enables deeper, richer experiences and students expect education institutions to deliver.

Innovative technologies such as cloud, analytics, social and mobile can improve higher education across the board from providing greater access to educational content, to integrating physical and digital worlds for compelling and engaging experiences, and improving decision making and outcomes leading to increased student success from admissions to graduation.

While higher education today may not be living up to its full potential, by embracing new ways of working and learning it can adapt and transform to enable economic growth and vitality in regions around the world.

For more insights from the new study, please visit:


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