The new higher education environment
Funding cuts and adjustments to traditional academic practices are not unique right now to these islands, they have become a global phenomenon. In Iowa in the United States local lawmakers are planning to end paid sabbatical leave by faculty, long considered internationally as a key element of academic professional development. Sabbaticals allow faculty to catch up with developments in their area, but also to do the research that will support their teaching and scholarship.
Meanwhile the University of Queensland in Australia has announced that it will cull teaching and research programmes that it can no longer afford. This is one of the key research universities in the country, and its move demonstrates how difficult it is now becoming for higher education institutions to maintain a wide portfolio of programmes; many, even long-standing research universities, will increasingly have to limit what they offer and develop a specialist focus.
Furthermore in India employees from a number of universities have held a rally in Delhi to protest about inadequate funding.
We are witnessing a global reconfiguration of higher education, but if we are honest we don’t really know where this is going, or how quality and excellence will be managed in this new environment. The public debate on all this is just a debate about ‘cuts’, in which universities, staff and students are calling for more money. Very little discussion has taken place about a model for higher education that might preserve excellence to the greatest possible extent in the absence of levels of state funding that used to be the norm.
There is an urgent need right now to identify the kind of system of higher education that we might want or would be able to live with and that would be workable on reduced public funding. We need to plan this properly. Changing the model by stealth, on the back of public expenditure cuts, is not the way to go.