Governance and Adaptation to Innovative Modes of Higher Education Provision

Computers room at the university

More students than ever are attending higher education, and its provision is becoming more fluid, global and competitive.

A review of governance and adaptation recommends that higher education institutions have a strategy to incorporate innovative modes of teaching and learning, as well as the management of higher education.


One of the main areas for reforms for the EU2020 strategy is the creation of effective governance mechanisms in support of, among others, academic excellence. In the context of higher education provision, developing excellence in teaching and learning and enhancing lifelong learning implies the use of new methods. It means that higher education institutions should use the latest developments in teaching in order to respond to the various competitive pressures they are facing.

These innovations stimulate changes in the provision and management of higher education and, thus, challenge the ‘traditional’ model of university and its future, raising a number of questions. Namely, how does the management of universities adapt to these innovations across Europe? What are these new modes of higher education provision across Europe? What is the role of the university governance in establishing and regulating innovative modes of provision? What are the motivations, barriers and drivers for innovative education provisions?


This project, funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission and the French Ministry for National Education (project number 539628-LLP-1-2013-1-NL-ERASMUS-EIG), examined innovative modes of higher education, in terms of both teaching and learning, and their evolution across Europe. It considered how, and why, they emerged, and how the management and governance of higher education as a whole have adapted to change.

The study began in October 2013 and finished in April 2016. It was conducted by a consortium of 12 European institutions, with RAND Europe being a co-leading organisation.

The main aims of the study were the following:

  1. To identify innovations in higher education delivery in Europe;
  2. To analyse the motivations, drivers, barriers and ways through which the management of higher education institutions (HEIs) adapts to innovative provision;
  3. To investigate and issue recommendations regarding the role of the university management in innovative provision of higher education.


In order to achieve these goals, the project used a methodological approach based on desk research. In addition, the team developed and implemented a large-scale online survey to HEI management staff, produced institutional case studies to determine best practices, and designed a self-assessment toolkit for HEIs to evaluate the innovativeness of their teaching and learning. Finally, the project team organised a workshop to exchange best practices, and designed a training course for university managers and teachers.


  • First, innovations include various aspects of education provision, including but not limited to digital innovations. These innovations include changes in teaching methods, curricula and programmes that allow for reaching a different student demographic – for example, through partnerships outside of the university.
  • Our participating institutions have highlighted several examples of promising practices in education provision and governance and management. These include examples which add value to the institution and have the potential to be transferable and sustainable.
  • University governance and management structures and approaches can support innovation in a number of ways. These include expressing a high-level institutional commitment and strategy to supporting innovation, as well as conducting regular evaluations of the initiatives.
  • Given that most HEIs are public in the European Union, supporting innovation also relies on an appropriate regulatory environment set by national governments and a stable and wide funding base.


  • Innovation relies foremost on an institution-wide leadership and strategy which bind the institution around a sense of purpose, the implementation of which needs to be regularly evaluated. While leaders are essential for supporting innovation, staff and students also have a role in generating ideas. We therefore recommend that each HEI include innovation objectives in its strategy.
  • In addition, HEIs need to provide the right institutional support; organisational flexibility; financial incentive; and evaluation, impact and quality assurance framework to support innovation. We therefore recommend that each HEI consider how the types of institutional support, organisational layout, financial incentives and evaluation procedures enhance the institution’s innovation potential.
  • Innovation needs to be understood broadly, for it does not only include new technologies. We recommend that HEIs consider not just investing in technology, but also prioritising training staff and developing support structures to facilitate the inclusion of innovation in a coherent teaching and learning approach.