The Importance of Knowledge Management in the Educational Process: A Case Study of the University of Waterloo, Canada
By Marica Mazurek, former Teaching Assistant (University of Waterloo), External Lecturer, Presov University, Faculty of Management, Slovakia, www.unipo.sk, Published Friday 17 of December: 2010-12-17
Being a part of two different cultures, societies and educational systems might be a personal benefit and advantage; however, it could also create an enormous pandemonium in the educational experience and tends to lead to an internal continual comparison. As a graduate student of a Masters in Science program in Business and Economics, which I studied in Czechoslovakia, I entered for the first time the educational system in Canada in 1993 during my studies at the Southern Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta. Canadian schools, colleges and universities provide competitive education; not only for Canadians but also for immigrants and international students. The globalization process has influenced the higher educational and related services, similar to other parts of our society and daily life. Knowledge transfer has become an international phenomenon, and the higher education sector is leading these activities, creating an example of best practice, for many sectors, of our economy. In my case, I entered the university environment as a lecturer in Slovakia in 1997, when I returned to Europe from Canada. Travelling across different cultural and economic environments might be an adventurous journey, and in my case I felt that “to be there does not really mean to share the same vision”. Let me explain this idea and use some examples.
When I started to teach as an assistant Professor at the Department of Tourism at the medium-size university (Matej Bel University) in Slovakia, I offered to teach particular courses in English. In that time, this idea seemed to be too ambitious and created an enormous resistance from the university management. A couple of years later, changes and developments in Slovakian higher education allowed the implementation of new approaches and creative ideas into the academic practice. One of the main reasons was the accession of Slovakia as a European Union (EU) member state in May 2004. As a new member state, Slovakia started to implement the European standards of education and developed the basis for education and exchange under the Erasmus students exchange program. EU memberships boosted the participation of local higher education institutions in international projects, and participate in research activities both within Europe and globally. Nowadays, Slovakian higher education is a competitive sector, especially in some technical and science-related disciplines, such as veterinary and medical studies. The new developments increased mutual research projects and one such research project, a cooperation between the European Union and Canada, brought me back to Canada in 2006. I was lucky enough to enter the ‘Canada’s Technology Triangle’. I joined a leading university in the Waterloo region, the Waterloo University in Ontario, where I lived, worked and studied for four years. I tried to grasp the notion of competitiveness, innovation, new methods of marketing and branding. Despite the disparities between my educational background and degree (Business and Economics) and the department I worked with (Social Sciences), I hoped to benefit as much as possible from the available academic environment, library resources, and the innovative management of the University. Some goals have been fulfilled; others I had to postpone or just erase. But the knowledge and experience I have obtained are definitely the best reward. The knowledge sharing and the innovative approach in the educational process of the Waterloo University have been pointed out many times by global business leaders such as Bill Gates during his February 2008 visit. For this reason, among others, I think I was quite lucky to be at Waterloo University for a period of time, despite the fact that I did not ‘fully fit’ with my department subject matter. I was also able to study and research competitiveness, innovation, and branding from guest lectures, organized by other departments. Nonetheless, I must admit that I was also fascinated with the studies and research of the ‘ambient intelligence’ and the creation of the clusters of intelligence in the ‘competitiveness concept’. This was possible since the Waterloo region belonged to such cluster through a partnership between the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
As Drucker (1993) stated, “knowledge is the only meaningful source today” and the continual shift from the manufacturing to the service economy has enhanced the importance of knowledge and its dissemination. On the other hand, Baumol (2002) described “innovation as a primary competitive weapon” and Kanter (1983) defined innovation as the process of bringing any new problem-solving ideas into use…the generation, acceptance and implementation of new ideas, processes, products, and services. Though innovation and comparative advantages can be utilized differently, innovation also offers a “first mover advantage” (Hall and Williams, 2008). First mover advantage and the idea of innovation have been implemented into the University of Waterloo educational concept, and that had a direct impact influencing positively the university ranking and success. In 2009, the national reputation survey of Canadian universities, the University of Waterloo ranked as the best overall university in Canada; especially through the innovative and comprehensive research. In 2010, the University of Waterloo was again recognized as Canada’s top university, by Maclean’s magazine, after the survey of reputation in the subcategories – Best Overall, Most Innovative, and Leaders for Tomorrow. In addition, the international character of the University of Waterloo is visible in everyday students’ lives and reflected in its programs. Other aspects of knowledge transfer and management are the university international activities. One such example is the partnership with Nanjing University of China that led to the creation of the Sino-Canadian College. The College offers undergraduate and graduate programs in arts, environment, mathematics, and science. Another important initiative that developed knowledge transfer opportunities has been the partnership between University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and AE Advancement Canada, that led to the development of the training program CETP (China Executive Training Program). Also, the University of Waterloo has established a campus in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, which offers mainly engineering programs. Looking back now, I cannot help but to feel an admiration of what the University has achieved during the 53 years of its existence. In my experience, and after returning to Europe, I thought that I would never be able to compare the university life of Canada with that in Slovakia, where I reside now. But, during my years abroad, things have moved ahead and I was surprised with the progress that some universities from Slovakia have achieved. The EU membership definitely had a positive impact on the innovative developments, and helped the improvement of the business environment and economy in Slovakia. In addition, it enabled and supported new research centers at Slovakian universities, and English programs are nowadays common at several universities in Slovakia. For example, recently, the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine in Martin, which belongs to the Comenius University of Bratislava, has been cited as a popular medicine-learning and research centre offering English programs. Students enrolled onto Faculty courses are not only from Slovakia, but also from other European, African and Asian countries. The program has been recognized even in the US, where graduates have the opportunity to pass the USMLE - United States Medical Licensing Examination. This is only one example of the positive impact of globalization and the internationalization of higher education. Knowledge transfer of management techniques, curriculum development and other skills from leading universities such as the University of Waterloo have transformed the educational systems in other countries, and Slovakia is not an exception. In my case, even if I could probably have achieved a better professional progression by staying in Slovakia, I do not regret the life changing experience of Canadian higher education, which opened for me new perspectives that will stay with me for life no matter where I live.References Baumol, W. (2002) The Free Market Innovation Machine: Analyzing the Growth Miracle of Capitalism, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press Drucker, P. F. (1993) Post-Capitalist Society, Butterworth, Heinemann, NY, In Johannessen, J. A., Olsen, B. and Lumpkin, G. T. (2001) (Eds.) Innovation as newness: what is new, how is new, and new to whom? European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 20-31 Hall, M. C. & Williams, A.M. (2008) Tourism Innovation, New York: Routledge Kanter, R. M. (1983) The Change Masters, New York, In Sundbo (1998) (Eds.). The Theory of Innovation: Entrepreneurs, Technology and Strategy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar http://www.scc.uwaterloo.ca http://www.international.uwaterloo.ca/cetp/index.html http://www.uae.uwaterloo.ca http://eng.jfmed.uniba.sk
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