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Universities respond to a changing landscape

New forces such as economic globalisation and information and communication technologies are shaping universities and research institutions and corresponding operational governance is required, says Professor Leo Goedegebuure, director of the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

He was speaking at the first executive training residential of the Research, Higher Education, Development and Innovation – RHEDI – project held in Durban, South Africa, in late May. There are 48 senior managers, policy-makers and experts from six African and three Southeast Asian countries in the first intake of the capacity-building training.

Goedegebuure said there was a need to understand the impact of new trends such as information and communication technologies on research.

Economic globalisation – the interdependent nature of sharing resources globally – has seen increased competition among countries and service providers. New providers of higher education have also been coming up.

The transition from industrial economies to knowledge-based economies has grown the demand for higher education and increased the diversity of the student body. The rapid evolution of information and communication technologies has pushed redesign in delivering education and expanded the range of opportunities available for teaching.

The impact

The changing global environment for tertiary education has put pressure on governments for more funds for research and the delegation of power to supervise institutions.

For universities and research institutions the impact has been about changes in institutional leadership and management.

“It’s critical to have those who interpret and translate change into strategy and bring the institution along on the journey,” said Goedegebuure, adding that teaching and support also need to adapt and implement change.

Failure to bring about a successful transition for some universities has been laid on failing to have suitable strategic plans.

Most universities’ fundamental problems are of their own making and they copy business strategies of other institutions without investigating their ability to execute such plans.

“There are too many universities trying to be like Harvard without fully understanding the costs of what Harvard does,” Goedegebuure said, quoting Harvard’s Clayton Christensen from his work on innovative universities.

Demands and challenges

Dr Vernon Crew, an international education consultant with the LH Martin Institute, said that besides new global trends there were other demands on higher education institutions necessitating changes.

He said changing national and economic priorities, knowledge expansion, global rankings and workforce demands were some of the challenges that universities had to face.

Crew, whose expertise stems from stints in Africa, Australia, Asia, North America, the Pacific Rim and the United Kingdom, said some of the challenges facing universities came from lack of authority to determine institutional strategy, staff retention, student readiness, language issues, censorship and insecure state funding.

Political instability or a volatile regulatory environment often made it harder for research leadership and management.

Participants in the training illustrated the kinds of demands on universities that kicked up challenges in their work. One was the need for institutions not only to respond to global changes but also to do so in a way that corresponds with national plans and priorities.

Dr Hileni Kapenda, a mathematics lecturer at the University of Namibia, said the institution’s strategic plan was in line with the National Development Plan. “Models we use already have a certain approach and if you have not studied them it becomes difficult to implement.”

Influencing change

Adopting new business models has become the response of universities.

Goedegebuure said some models had a provision under which a third party could provide courseware and learning materials. In some instances technology would be used to deliver instruction and the faculty would act as mentors and facilitators. Others were resorting to self-diagnostic tools resulting in individual study plans.

“Education as we know it is going through massive changes and what we don’t know is where it will end up,” he said.

“But we do know that we will be facing increased competition, ICT is going to have immense impact, government support is going to be modest at best, and Asia will grow,” he added.

LH Martin Institute Deputy Director Marian Schoen said bringing together research leaders and managers from Asia and Africa was part of a process to help them develop and adopt suitable strategies in increasingly complex times.

Out of different cultures, their interactions and analyses of different operational mechanisms, these leaders will find approaches and strategies that help in their work, Schoen said.

“We are not offering a solution to their problems but we are providing pathways in which there are common problems and they might find answers to their institutional challenges,” Schoen told University World News.

* RHEDI will launch its own, interactive and resource-rich website on the University World News platform in the near future.

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No shortcuts to development, basic research is key
Benchmarking research leadership and management
Great need for capacity building in research management
Changing power relations in research management

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