Reconsidering Higher Education Organizations via ecosystem Thinking: Some Initial Thoughts


  • Zito de Boer
  • Daniel Dominguez van Tilburg
  • Jan Kamburg
  • Kyra Kronenberg
  • Max Kuppens
  • Emőke Takács
  • Toon Abcouwer University of Amsterdam



Ecosystem thinking, higher education, decentralised education, digital collaboration, platform thinking


Providing optimal knowledge sharing has become increasingly important during the lockdown starting in early 2020. As a mechanism for sharing knowledge, education is also hugely impacted. Studying from home became feasible. On-campus learning had to change entirely to online within weeks. Besides preventing the spread of the virus, this shift allowed students to follow their courses anywhere. Physical distance to an institution is no longer a barrier to knowledge exchange. Online facilities offer students access to a broader field with an impact on the quality of education.

The paper defines an ecosystem for higher education institutions (HEI) based on our own experiences with online learning, interviews, and literature reviews.

The goal is to create a theorized environment where students can sign up for higher education (HE) classes, courses, programmes at different institutions across Europe. The ecosystem could create commonly shared quality standards from a decentralised perspective, potentially increasing learning quality and providing students with more freedom in their personal learning experiences. This paper does not serve as a full scientific proof but as a discussion.

The proposed ecosystem foresees students to follow courses anywhere. It offers study-abroad programmes and inter-institutional collaborations with a centralised platform for knowledge management. Allowing students to choose classes institution-free would increase specialisation of those institutions and impact the quality of education.

We will show that implementing a decentralised education system needs a bottom-up approach with a centrally formulated IT strategy to facilitate education exchange. Common quality standards, resilience, innovation, simplicity, inclusivity, maturity, and specificity are essential. For an adaptive system, governance, resistance, ownership, and communication ownership should adhere.

Our proposed ecosystem of institution-free HE would benefit all parties involved. Students can tailor their learning experience and obtain the highest level of education possible. HEI benefit in improving the quality of their programmes due to added competition. They could also drop courses that students better take elsewhere, allowing for specialisation in specific fields.

Such an ecosystem holds financial, administrative, and even legal limitations. However, institutions can implement step-by-step, giving affordance to the substantial bureaucracy that will inevitably ensue.