Expanding Higher Education Through Outside Engagement

Uday Bonu

Leading higher education institutions such as MIT have enjoyed global leadership and sustained growth for many years through excellence in educating students. However, engagement with outside stakeholders such as alumni, and partnerships with other educational institutions, governments, and industries also plays a role in their global significance and brand reputation.

The affect of globalization on economies is generally positive, as it commoditizes manufacturing and reduces barriers to technology and information. To drive growth and productivity, many countries are transitioning into knowledge economies based on innovation-driven entrepreneurship. All levels of government and industry are looking to higher education and tertiary institutions as a critical catalyst to create the workforce of the future, deliver research that improves lives, and create sustainable innovation ecosystems.

Leadership in the education industry depends largely on mutually productive engagements between institutions and outside ecosystems. Accordingly, institutions that aspire to become educational leaders must develop mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships with industry and community stakeholders.

Higher education institutions have always been complex, multi-dimensional organizations, with different departments engaging with a multitude of stakeholders serving many purposes. In addition to succeeding in their core purpose of educating students, universities must also develop world-class research programs, maximize funding from donors, support and improve the communities around its campuses, collaborate and innovate with industries and governments, and maintain strong partnerships with industry to help students gain internships and secure jobs after graduation.

External stakeholder engagement: Key benefits

  • Knowledge and skills: Learning programs align with industry demand for future skills, internships help students gain experience solving real-world business challenges.
  • High-impact research and innovation: Research programs are shaped by human and community need and can attract funds from diverse global sources. Thriving innovation ecosystems bring together industry, businesses, governments, venture capitalists, and other education institutions.
  • Leadership in the education industry: Engagement increases and diversifies revenue streams by encouraging entrepreneurs and startups to fund research and intellectual property. Secure partnerships with a diverse ecosystem of partners, especially up- and down-stream value chain organizations, benefits all.
  • Stronger communities: Institutions contribute to local communities, especially vulnerable and needy citizens, by offering training programs, supporting regional development (especially in rural areas), and championing local priorities and causes.

External stakeholder ecosystems

The relationship between members of the ecosystem, and the purpose that each one fulfills, will vary widely. It is important that all members understand their needs and expectations in relation to the capabilities, resources, and expectations of the institution. The institution and each external stakeholder should have a transparent view of their respective outcomes.

Key characteristics of a highly engaged education institution


  • Engagement aligns closely with the institution’s vision, mission, strategy and plans to ensure consistency across diverse activities and relationships
  • Any external stakeholder may have multiple relationships with other parts of the institution
  • Management takes a coordinated and complementary approach to building and maximizing relationships with all external stakeholders
  • Each business has a clear understanding of any expected reciprocal benefits and interactions
  • Management has developed and utilizes an institution-specific model that clearly defines the process and evaluation of effective external engagement

Business and technology

  • All participants fully understand that the relationship requires a “two-sided user journey:” that of the institution’s internal staff and that of the external stakeholder
  • All participants have accurate holistic view of the partnership between the institution and the stakeholder (who may have multiple relationships; i.e., donor, research partner, internship partner, supplier, etc.)
  • The effectiveness of each channel and interaction is measured using new capabilities such as machine learning, with continuous improvement as the goal
  • Non-sensitive data is shared and reused for the benefit of the overall institution
  • Risks are monitored and mitigated holistically to protect the institution and to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements
  • An open, scalable, and modular platform that addresses all aspects of stakeholder engagement and provides a single source of truth is used
  • Platforms embed or can be extended with new artificial intelligence innovations such as machine learning-based conversational apps to gain stakeholder insights

Organizational structure

  • All academic and business units establish external engagement strategies to reflect and support the external engagement agenda
  • External stakeholder engagement integrates with individual roles and business unit/faculty objectives and plans
  • Professional development skills are provided to help staff implement effective external engagement strategies and techniques
  • An external “Center of Excellence,” which includes a network of champions from within respective schools and faculties, research and campus development programs, student bodies, and societies, helps participants share information and leverage best practices across the institution

Certainly, all of the capabilities listed above cannot happen overnight, nor do most businesses have much appetite for major transformational programs. Start with one or two specific use-cases that are high-pain and/or high-value to an established senior business stakeholder. Identify the internal business owners as well as a sample of relevant key external stakeholders that will contribute to developing technology-agnostic, two-sided user journeys.

Engage with one or two technology partners who have an open-platform approach to technology, and share your institutional vision and strategy while maintaining a strategic focus on the local higher education environment. Most importantly, the technology partner should be willing to commit expertise, technology, and an agile engagement approach to work collaboratively with the institution’s business and IT teams as well as with external stakeholders.

Crystalize the use case with a thoughtfully designed set of success criteria that can be tested within a 6- to 8-week period. Share the outcome with other business stakeholders for re-use and leverage for scaling across the institution.

Finally, any higher education institution that aims to boost its value by improving external stakeholder engagement should address three key aspects:

  • Desirability: business need exists and is well understood
  • Feasibility: The technology and business capability exist to address the need and adopt change
  • Viability: A quantifiable opportunity exists and is well supported by a senior business stakeholder

This same approach could be applied to any innovation or transformation initiative; addressing all three factors is critical to derive true, sustainable value for any higher education institution and stakeholder ecosystem.

How can technology help improve student outcomes? See Higher Ed Faces Global Pressure To Boost Student Success.

Uday Bonu

About Uday Bonu

Uday Bonu is a business and outcome focused IT professional with over 20 years of diverse experiences in strategy, consulting, business transformation, operations, sales and service delivery in IT. He engaged with large and medium enterprises across a broad section of industries including public sector, higher education, telco, utilities, manufacturing, distribution and retail in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden Markets. Uday is currently a Senior Industry Principal for Public Sector and Higher Education in SAP for the Australia New Zealand region. He is responsible for industry strategy, thought leadership, Business development, executive client relationships and drive digital transformation with strategic customers, across the entire SAP portfolio of offerings. Uday has an MBA and has recently graduated from an Executive Program in General Management at MIT Sloan, Cambridge. He also has certifications in various professional bodies of knowledge including Management Consulting, Certified Enterprise Architect (TOGAF v9.1) and ITIL V3 Expert.