The cuts culture
We’ve been here before, but this time it’s worse than anything we’ve experienced before. In higher education in the developed world, we are in an era of apparently never-ending cuts. Public money is being stripped out of the system, to be replaced in some jurisdictions by higher tuition fees.
A consequence of this development is that it can create an institutional culture that brings all significant strategic innovation to an end: the culture of efficiencies and savings. A possible example of that is the statement by the Vice-Chancellor of one UK university (which has just suffered public funding cuts of 7 per cent) that the priority now was making the university ‘as lean as possible’ by being ‘smarter about how we manage our operations’. In fact I have no doubt that the university in question is continuing to develop its strategic opportunities, but the risk in a cuts culture is that everything is focused on retrenchment and survival, and not enough energy goes into innovation and renewal.
Every university needs to review constantly how well it is managing its resources, but cutting costs is not enough for sustainability and success. The key objective during such times must be to find new sources of revenue, and to start new initiatives. Without that, any university is on a path to a slow death.
Of course the risk is that the search for revenue may dilute the higher education core mission. Getting this right is not easy. Not all will get it right.