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Developing Future Scenarios of Higher Education to Improve the Bridging Function of EAIR

A note by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Teichler about the Future of EAIR.

Ulrich Teichler was Professor at the University of Kassel from 1978 to 2013 and for many years Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER-Kassel). He was also President of EAIR.

Research mainly on higher education and careers, structural developments in higher education, international cooperation and mobility, and the profession of university lecturer; more than 1000 scientific publications.

EAIR has a bridging function between different groups of experts. This is more risky and demanding, but can elicit exceptionally interesting results.

EAIR is a unique association, because it does not rely primarily on a single group of actors and experts. Rather, EAIR has a bridging function between different groups of experts. This is more risky and demanding, but can elicit exceptionally interesting results.

The specific character of EAIR might be illustrated in contrasting it with two other associations, which were friendly “neighbors” of EAIR over the years. The Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) was founded about three decades ago primarily as a membership organisation of academics based in academic departments of institutions of higher education or in research institutes specialized on higher education. CHER could rely on common interests of its core members to exchange knowledge on research, to generate ideas of enhancing the quality of research and stimulate cooperation of researchers in a common area of expertise. ´The European Association of International Education (EAIE) was also founded three decades ago primarily as a membership organization of administrators working in institutions of higher education or in respective umbrella organisations, i.e. persons in charge of shaping the practice of international mobility and cooperation, who are willing to this with the help of sharing systematic information which might be fruitful for new ideas in their domain.

When EAIR was founded about four decades ago, most of the founding fathers and mothers believed that such a single core group of members was likely to emerge in the near future. This expectation was based on the situation in the United States of America: There, the Association of Institutional Research (AIR) had primarily members, who were employed in special research units linked to the administration of individual universities and were expected to do research on select phenomena of their own institution in order to improve the knowledge relevant for rational strategies of improvement of this respective institution. Actually, institutional research emerged here and there in Europe, but became not a broad movement. However, EAIR persisted in bringing together academically based higher educational researchers, researchers with a dominant applied emphasis, administrators with part-time functions of collecting systematic information as well as managers and administrators, who were highly interested in a good information base as inspiration for enhancing the quality of higher education. Most of the persons active in EAIR and regularly interesting in EAIR had a prime professional association somewhere else, but liked to join EAIR as an association bridging the interests and the knowledge bases of those who jointly consider in-depth solid knowledge on higher education as a good breeding ground for ideas of enhancement.

It is risky to keep a bridging association flourish

This bridging concept of EAIR was successful for four decades, as the annual fora and other events, the publications and the opinions of the active and occasional participants of these varied activities show. It is certainly more risky to keep such a bridging association flourishing than an association with a stronghold in a single dominant category of members. The author of this contribution – over a period of 35 years professor of higher education research at the International Centre for Higher Education Research of the University of Kassel - was chairman of the CHER for various years, before he was invited to become president of EAIR about two decades ago. He also could observe the EAIE as a speaker at various EAIE meetings, because internationalisation of higher education was one of his key areas of research. Therefore, various risky phases of the “life” of EAIR could be observed as well as the success of stimulating valuable communication between the generation and dissemination of systematic knowledge with the search of creative practical ideas.

EAIR succeeded in its bridging exercise, whereby always some persons were primarily delivering systematic knowledge, while others were primarily receiving this knowledge and drawing conclusions for future practical improvement. One could ask, however, whether EAIR also could embark on activities, where its diverse members have more in common. I believe that both researchers interested in the practical consequence of their knowledge and reflective practitioners wishing to utilize systematic knowledge as inspiration for improved practice could cooperate in developing future scenarios: In speculating what the key challenges for higher education might be two decades or three decades ahead from now. Both, practically interested researchers and reflective practitioners know that there is a strong danger to look too much at the present situation and almost consider our current time as the “end of history”, because experience had shown in the past that substantial changes were the norm. And all those interested in the activities of EAIR know that today’s decision taken in higher education have salient consequences for various future decades.

Future scenario development ought to become a regular feature of each EAIR Forum.

Joint work in developing future scenarios of higher education would not be merely speculative random. It was valuable that some researchers and practitioners began to speculate about a society with an enrollment rate of more than 50% already at a time, when not much more than 10% had been enrolled. It was valuable that speculations about dramatic change of governance and management of higher education under conditions, who now are characterized as “knowledge society”, even started when higher education served primarily small segments of society. Future scenario development ought to become a regular feature of each EAIR Forum. The diverse members and friends of EAIR could cooperate and communicate better on equal terms, and they could jointly generate ideas possibly creative both for the daily life and functions of researchers and of reflective practitioners.

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