Being competitive in higher education
In this blog I recently drew attention to comments made in University College Dublin by the new chair of the Higher Education Authority, Mr John Hennessy, on the topic of what universities should adopt from the private sector. The HEA has now drawn attention to his speech on their website, and it contains the following quote from the speech:
‘My experience in the private sector has taught me that it is absolutely imperative to be competitive. In the last decade, this has changed to be competitive in a global context. A concern I would have for the higher education sector is that there appears to be limited effort to devise and implement a strategy to identify and reward institutions, faculties and individuals that are doing best. We must reward excellence and differentiate between institutions in Higher Education. We must reward and reinforce the right behaviours and differentiate within the sector.’
The question of what it means to be competitive in higher education, and how institutions can be supported in achieving this status, is likely to receive more attention in future. Universities are not necessarily going to compete with each other globally in the way that companies do: they do not offer competing products and services, and they do not adjust prices to maximise competition (except to a limited extent in the international student market – though there the competition tends to be more between countries than between institutions). On the other hand, universities provide a knowledge and skills backdrop to investment and start-up decisions, and their standing vis-à-vis other universities in other countries has a significant impact on these decisions.
In my view, this kind of competitiveness does matter, but it is not the same kind as might be in the mind of a senior corporate executive. I am not suggesting that John Hennessy is wrong in his above comments, but that it would be interesting to hear him expand on his theme, particularly if his views may be about to influence Irish higher education strategy. I hope he takes an early opportunity to do so.