'Pedagogical innovations are a must'

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin says public financing of scientific and technological research in universities is certainly crucial. Photo: Special Arrangement  

A Senior Analyst and Project Leader at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, is an expert in higher education and has published extensively on international- isation, globalisation, access, public and private provision, and capacity development in higher education. His recent books include ‘Higher Education to 2030.' He currently leads a project called ‘Innovation Strategy for Education and Training' launched by the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, after having co-led the human capital work of the OECD Innovation Strategy. Before joining the OECD, Stéphan had worked for seven years as lecturer and researcher in economics at the University of Paris-Nanterre and the London School of Economics. He was recently in New Delhi and spoke at various places, including the Planning Commission and the India International Centre, on the theme ‘Skills and education for innovation.' Excerpts from an interview with Eldho Mathews, Young Professional, Education Division, Planning Commission.

What according to you are the main inputs for innovation?

Innovation is about translating ideas or creativity into socially valuable products and services. It is not an end in itself. Innovation-friendly ecosystems are based on several interrelated inputs. One critical input lies in human resources: qualified people who have the skills to see opportunities, make connections between different ideas, imagine how things could be achieved or improved, convince others to support their ideas, etc. Companies need to make the right use of these skills too. They must encourage or at least leave room for innovation and make sure that individual and organisational learning takes place thanks to training and the creation of feedback loops. Capital is another key input, as well as a regulatory framework that allows innovators to reap the benefits of their efforts without preventing the next wave of innovation. One key point is that all these inputs have to be present at the same time: this is why we often use the “ecosystem” metaphor. Promoting innovation is about promoting a culture of innovation, that is, certain behaviours among a variety of stakeholders.

You spoke about the Finnish experience in promoting skills and education for innovation in your lecture at the India International Centre. In countries such as Finland, technology-based industries are export-based and constitute over half of the goods exported by the country. However, in the Indian condition, innovative solutions to the needs of the primary sector seem to be important than the service sector. How critical is the role of universities and research institutions in finding innovative ways to develop skills required in this situation?

Innovation is needed in every sector of the economy, in agriculture as much as in the service sector, in education and health as much as in the manufacturing or computing sectors. One source of innovation is a small elite of innovators who use research and development to develop new knowledge and products. Agriculture has become a knowledge-intensive sector in many countries, but of course many solutions depend on the local climate, parasites, etc. Indian universities and research institutions play a crucial role in generating basic research and new solutions, especially those which are specific to India, but also in diffusing the latest state of knowledge in the world. A second source of innovation is the workforce of peasants who can improve the daily agricultural process by not only using products developed following research and development in universities and businesses, but by making themselves key incremental improvements to their practices. These people need to get appropriate education to understand and be receptive to new knowledge – even if they never attend higher education.

Going back to what you said in your lecture: you specifically mentioned what type of individual skills should higher education institutions foster in the present scene. But in India, a large number of higher education institutions, particularly the newly emerged private ones, target the requirements of the international job market as well. How can we bridge this divide in terms of national priorities and individual aspirations?

Targeting the domestic or the international job market does not make much difference to the individual skills that need to be developed by higher education institutions. Our research shows that what distinguishes the most from the least innovative job is their requirement for the following skills: come with new ideas and solutions, have the willingness to question ideas, to present ideas in an audience, be alert to opportunities. In many countries, higher education institutions are good at developing the mastery of a field, at giving people some analytical thinking and the ability to acquire new knowledge — all skills which are also important to innovation — but they are not as strong in developing the critical skills that I have mentioned above around critical thinking, creativity and communication. You mentioned that the higher education sector plays a crucial role in a country's innovation strategy. What are the main challenges faced by policy-makers when addressing demand-based innovation strategies as a way to address social challenges (environment, health, etc.)?

Higher education institutions train people who will produce and adopt innovations: in the case of India, where higher education is not universal yet, future managers, researchers, developers, and policy-makers have to encourage the higher education sector to keep abreast with the most recent knowledge and teach it to their students. The quality of research but also of teaching is essential. In most countries though, faculty have more incentives to do good research than good teaching. Striking a better balance is essential, and this is why the OECD develops a feasibility study for the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO). Scientific research in India is dominated by a vast network of public-funded universities and research institutions and they play a very crucial role in national research capacity. Do you think that public support is crucial for developing new scientific and technological knowledge?

Without any doubt. Governments must support research and development. First, universities, typically public or non-profit universities, are the key players in performing basic research. This is really their specialty. Businesses perform more and more basic research, but they are more specialised in development or applied research — transforming this basic research into a marketable product or service, into a new production process, etc. Because of the risk associated with research and development, private enterprises have little incentives to invest, so that government has to support these activities. They can do it through tax credits for enterprises and other mechanisms, but the public financing of scientific and technological research in universities is certainly crucial.

Is measurement of innovation in education and training really a new concept? Could you explain OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation's efforts in measuring innovations in education?

Innovation has been measured for decades in the business sector. But it is only very recently that people have realised the importance of innovation in the public sectors, so this is definitely a new concept. Improving the measurement of innovation, including in education, is one of the key messages of the OECD Innovation Strategy. Do you think that it is possible to achieve innovation in education without pedagogical innovations?

Pedagogical innovations are absolutely necessary. We need to change and improve teaching so that there are better learning outcomes and that different skill sets are fostered simultaneously: subject-based skills, skills in thinking and creativity, social and behavioural skills. This will come from pedagogical innovation. However, pedagogical innovation is only one dimension of a broader innovation ecosystem in education: as mentioned before, there are many inputs to innovation. Innovation in education has to build on educational research; on new teaching, assessment and diagnosis tools, possibly developed by private entrepreneurs; on work organisations in schools and universities that are conducive to continuous improvement; on incentives and funds for innovation; on a culture of experimentation and calculated risk-taking, including the systematic evaluation of what is experimented; on the flow of knowledge in the sector via information systems giving quick feedback to all stakeholders and via networks of professionals. Innovation and improvement in pedagogy is the cornerstone of better learning outcomes, but it needs a broader innovation ecosystem to happen. And innovation in education also pursues other objectives than learning outcomes, such as equity, cost-efficiency, or students' wellbeing. Ultimately, innovation in education is about building a better future, a better world and better lives.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 8:39:47 PM |

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