Bridging the hybridity between academics and administrators

For decades, universities have been described as hybrid organizations where different types of employees (read: academics and administrators) lead completely separate lives, both have their own niches and work interests. Compared to the corporate world, they would not be able to formulate future-proof strategies and respond to the ‘needs’ of contemporary society. Within the walls of the university, it is ‘an organized anarchy’ in which decision-making processes can be defined as ‘garbage can’. Several researchers (and good ones at that) have, in recent years, expressed themselves in such terms about the university as an organization.

Despite such criticisms, academic organizations have proven able to respond to an ever more rapidly changing world for hundreds of years. Universities continue to prove their added value, and they are perfectly able to demonstrate their public value. Universities adapt to the environment, change a little bit, but remain unchanged in their core. Read more

The EAIR that I breathe

Our association “The Higher Education Society” is in healthy shape. Reaching the age of maturity – EAIR will celebrate its 40th birthday in 2018 – we can look back at forums, well organised by enthusiastic and professional university teams, with great keynote speakers, many interesting contributions from participants and our members and interesting new initiatives, like the presidential roundtable and the special interest groups. An asset of our association is that the forums bring us to new places, leads to reacquainting old friends and introduces us to new colleagues. The size of the conference is manageable for each participant, with limited fears of getting lost in the crowd. Focusing on the period I chaired the Executive Committee, I look back with fond memories at the forums in e.g. Stavanger and Birmingham: before heading off to these forums, I did not realise what treasures these universities and their cities and regions would harbor and afterwards I was happy having met new interesting colleagues.

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Cutting the cost of higher education wins few votes

Here in the UK we are in the first week into our first conservative government for 18 years. What can our European colleagues possibly learn from the political pledges that have led up to this and what are the early predications for tertiary higher education in UK? If we start by looking at the party manifestos we can get a sense of party/electorate priorities for Higher Education and possible developments in the UK and beyond over next five years. Read more

WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE?

The question is clear, a tad facetious, and always current; the answer is nothing short of a challenge. After 36 years of existence, some organizations are long in the tooth, others find ways to constantly re-invent themselves. EAIR is not immune to the question: If EAIR did not exist, what difference would it make to members, non-members, and other stakeholders?  What we know for sure is that a company that does not cater products or services tailored to its customers is doomed to self-inflicted euthanasia. A little bit of fear is rarely a bad motivator. What we also know is that the field of knowledge and learning is neither entirely similar to nor different from private enterprise. We, as a community, have been gullible at times, hanging our hats on fads imported from the private sector that had little traction in educational institutions (think of TQM and re-engineering as examples). Read more

Markets and Managerialism in Higher Education: enhancing diversity or promoting conformity?

Are markets and ‘managerialism’ inevitable – and also desirable, especially if we want more diversity and excellence in higher education? This is the question I plan to address in my talk to the EAIR conference in Essen in August.

Across Europe the direction of travel seems to be towards a stronger managerial culture in universities as Governments grant institutions greater operational autonomy. There are several reasons for this shift:

  • One is certainly the pressure that State budgets have come under in post-2008 ‘austerity Europe’. The hope is that by devolving management (and budgetary) responsibilities from Ministries to universities costs can be cut;
  • A second reason is the emphasis on universities as entrepreneurial organisations in the wider context of the knowledge society – especially in a competitive global economy in which Europe fears it may losing ground to more vigorous competitors (notably in east Asia);
  • A third reason is the concern that state bureaucracies, and perhaps public systems of higher education more generally, produce too much uniformity. If we want more diversity, institutions must be free to determine their own destinies. The language of the ‘market’ has invaded higher education – niche products, brands, business strategies and the rest.

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Linking research, practice and policy

It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with recent Euro events that the challenges affecting Irish higher education are tied up with the country’s slow emergence from a financial and economic collapse that saw core expenditure per student decline by 15% since 2008 and a reduction of almost 2,000 in staff numbers. At the same time, total number of learners, including full-time and part-time, undergraduate and postgraduate, have increased, and will continue to rise between now and 2020. This is in line with a projected demographic expansion and labour market demand. Remarkably, despite having experienced over 15% unemployment a few years ago, the requirement for graduates may now exceed the current 69% participation rate.

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Third mission and U-multirank

Universities are seen as increasingly significant sources of knowledge and capabilities in the knowledge economy. Policy-makers and analysts alike have begun to pay more attention to university missions and the ways in which university-based capabilities and activities can contribute to social and economic development in a better way. There is a wide understanding for the two core missions of universities: teaching and research. The two are at the heart of all activities and therefore the engines of system and institutional developments and core elements of the university outputs. However, in recent years, another mission is being considered in order to reflect all contributions of universities to society, what is generally known as third mission or third stream.

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EAIR-ing: Our association’s rich diversity

Allow me the pun on “airing” (as in: exposure to public attention), to kick off a new way of communicating and engaging with you and the broader community of those professionally interested in research in higher education. In sync with the launch of the new web site, the Executive Committee thought it appropriate to start a series of virtual exchanges on topical issues, our annual Forum not being long enough to share what we would like to share …

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