Forum Theme

Competition, Collaboration & Complementarity in Higher Education

The Forum will be hosted by the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary

If the world of higher education were one big concert hall, it would be a crowded and boisterous place! Concerts by orchestras of various configurations and performing ambitions would be taking place all the time, some noisier than others, and most often simultaneously. Conductors, musicians and concertgoers would be changing places continually, sometimes in the middle of the performance, without even waiting for an intermission.

As in this metaphor, work in higher education involves many interactions of different natures. Higher education institutions are often, if not permanently, in competition. They compete for students, staff and resources, be they material (financial) or symbolic (prestige).  In the age of globalization and knowledge societies, competition is imposed upon universities by external forces, including the markets, regulators and policy makers, funders and ranking agencies. In short, competition is part of their normal state of being.

In spite of the permanent pressure from competition, higher education institutions also cooperate. It might be a special characteristic – speaking to the exceptionalism of universities as organizations – that competition does not exclude cooperation. Cooperation in higher education may be for operational reasons (increase efficiency, reach objectives one could not achieve alone), may have political foundations (as we have seen in Europe under the umbrella of the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategies) or moral justification (international cooperation and aid).

A particular type of interaction occurs when universities realize they have elements of complementarity. Rather than competing, they can join forces and resources not to cooperate as equal partners in every aspect, but rather because they have differential strengths (or weaknesses) and they can complete each other in achieving individual tasks and objectives.

The forum aims to create a space for presenting, discussing and assessing in a cohesive manner cooperation, competition and complementarity in higher education. It is, in a way, a conference about the complex but beautiful “sound of higher education” when institutions are at work.