It’s a given that we are in the midst of extraordinary social and technological change.

The problem for universities in adjusting to the consequent disruptions is that they suffer from “giant oil tanker syndrome” – they are so big they take a heck of a long time to turn around.

And by the time they’ve turned, conditions have changed and they have to maneuver once more only to find they’ve sailed into another storm … and, you guessed it, must turn again.

For universities adaptation tends to happen in slow motion when fast-forward is the required setting.

A change sneaking up right now (or should that be galloping ahead at full speed?) is in the wants, needs, desires and preferred outcomes of a new generation of students: the Millennials aka Generation Y.

Yes, they are different – just as Gen X appeared to be strangers to the Baby Boomers.

Recently Maren Hogan wrote an insightful post entitled The Four Millennial Mindsets That Will Change The Way We Work.

Millennials, she says, see jobs more like gigs and less like life-long choices. They are more likely to take a job different from what they planned in a company they can believe in.

This could see a marketing major take admin work at a company that aligns with her values, for example – “compromise means they put aside the job of their dreams for being able to live out their values, whatever they are”. It’s all about adapting “to the work world they were given”.

It’s hard to resist (so we won’t) taking her conclusions one step further: that Millennials will want and demand that their higher education be fit for purpose, that it shapes itself to fulfill their needs and aspirations.

Just as they are flexible and adaptable, they will expect nothing less from their universities.

It’s time to start turning the tanker, quick smart. But can universities react quickly enough, and what might be the consequences for a new generation if they can’t?