Higher Education Review Magazine

Higher Education Review ›› Magazine ›› March-2018 issue

Identifying and Reducing Waste in Higher Education Sector using Lean Thinking

Author : Prof. Jiju Antony & FrenieJiju Antony, Professor - Quality Management , Heriot-Watt University & Glasgow International College, University of Glasgow

Prof. Jiju Antony & FrenieJiju Antony

Prof. Jiju Antony & FrenieJiju Antony, Professor - Quality Management, Heriot-Watt University & Glasgow International College, University of Glasgow

Lean is a set of principles and practices derived from the Toyota Production System developed by the Toyota Motor Company to establish operational excellence as a strategic cornerstone. The "Toyota Way"(Liker, 2004), emphasized continuous improvement and respect for employees as key to strategic business philosophy to enhance product quality and productivity across the business. Lean in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have enabled these institutions to seek process improvements and meet demands of the Higher Education (HE) marketplace: exceeding the expectations of students, faculty members, industry and government bodies, reducing operational costs in an age of budgetary constraints and even reducing several forms of waste across the institutions.

To date, we have seen the applications of Lean in administrative operations and support services within many universities but virtually nothing yet to academic processes. A few key researchers in Lean Thinking have warned that academic freedom and autonomy in HEIs will continue to challenge Lean implementation. Here the term "Waste" is used in the context of HEIs followed by examples of Waste and finally elucidating how such Waste can be reduced using Lean Thinking (LT).Before waste can be reduced or eliminated, it must be recognized and this is the biggest challenge for any organization, in particular, HEIs where processes are not very or less transparent. Once recognized, its causes must be understood and addressed if they are to be permanently removed. The following are the most common forms of waste in HEIs:

To date, we have seen the applications of Lean in administrative operations and support services within many universities but virtually nothing yet to academic processes.


Waiting- This refers to time waiting for the next step in a process to be executed. In an HE context, this may include: waiting for documents to be approved, IT systems downtime, searching for files, books, and documents, the time is taken to respond to student queries, the time taken to mark course works, etc.

Inventory-This refers to keeping more supplies or items than required. Records and documents held longer than usefully required. In an HE setting, typical examples may include too many marketing brochures, too many photocopies of class notes, too many stationery items in stock, unnecessary number of e-mails, etc.

Transportation-This refers to the unnecessary movement of products and materials resulting in wasted efforts and energy and adds no value to customers.Typical examples in an HE context may include multiple approvals for conference attendance, excessive e-mail attachments, movement of paper works between departments and schools across the university, etc.

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