Divergent Futures

The Spectrum of Higher Ed Innovation

90-120 min keynote presentation

For decades now, higher education has been subject to intensifying fiscal, political, economic and demographic pressures. Students increasingly expect real-time digital content and convenient online supports; lawmakers want expanded access and enhanced student success, while also demanding ever-greater efficiencies and measurable outcomes, even while students arrive less prepared and requiring more supports than ever; and industry seeks more applied research, commercialization and “job-ready” graduates. Automation, in the form of AI and robotics, will transform the workplace over the next two decades in a so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” And atop all that, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly closed campuses and borders, disrupted entire economic sectors, accelerated the adoption of online teaching tools, exacerbated inequality and mental health challenges, frustrated international student recruitment efforts, and undermined institutional finances with unprecedented speed.

Colleges and universities will need to be nimble, innovative, and resilient to survive and thrive in these times of radical change. Institutions are evolving in multiple, sometimes paradoxical ways: seeking non-traditional markets and economies of scale, new revenues and partnerships, while enhancing pedagogy and student supports, offering new credentials, and promoting health and wellness on campus. Accelerated, premium-priced programs compete with flexible, self-paced, online alternatives. New technologies like adaptive textbooks, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are transforming the classroom, while personal engagement, hands-on learning and niche programs move some institutions and students in what appear to be very different directions. Innovation is imperative for all colleges and universities, but the dizzying array of potential trajectories requires cautious, strategic thinking and deep understanding of institutional distinctiveness.

In this dynamic, fast-paced and media-rich presentation, Ken Steele will synthesize global research data, emerging trends and promising practices to offer a “big picture” overview of the full range of innovation that will remake higher ed institutions over the next two decades. Participants will be invited to reflect on the implications for your own institution, and add your voice and perspective to real-time polls.

Ken Steele is Canada’s leading higher education monitor and futurist. He co-founded the PSE market research firm Academica Group, created the daily newsbrief Academica Top Ten, manages Eduvation Inc, co-authored Canada’s first book on enrolment management, publishes a daily roundup of strategic foresight, and hosts the video webcast Ten with Ken, which reaches thousands of subscribers on a dozen platforms.  Ken brings his unique perspective and insight to a broad range of audiences, from faculty and instructors, boards and senior administration, to information technology staff, concerned parents, and Canada’s most powerful corporate CEOs.


Feridun Hamdullahpur

“Thank you for your excellent presentation at my annual Board of Governors’ retreat. I wanted the Governors to hear about what’s happening in our higher education world today, what are the external forces and influences that can, and will, disrupt our relatively slow moving sector. You did a great job of very clearly identifying the trends, challenges and issues from various perspectives; students specifically and society in general. I, along with the members of the Board, very much enjoyed it and learned from it. It was educating, insightful and to my personal liking, even provocative.”

Feridun Hamdullahpur, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Waterloo

Here are some relevant episodes of 10K, for a sense of Ken’s approach and as potential examples to share with participants in advance:



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