Conceptualising the new higher education: a blast from the right

The future of higher education will probably belong to those who can create a coherent strategic concept and win support from key education stakeholders. One such attempt that has generated a fair amount of publicity in the United States is a document by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a policy research institute that declares its mission to be ‘to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation.’ This document sets out ‘seven solutions’ to current higher education issues, and these are:

  • measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness;
  • publicly recognize and reward extraordinary teachers;
  • split research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both;
  • require evidence of teaching skill for tenure;
  • use “results-based” contracts with students to measure quality;
  • put state funding directly in the hands of students;
  • create results-based accrediting alternatives.

This is a set of prescriptions coming from a right-leaning American institute, but some of its elements enjoy a wider currency than that. They are based on the view that universities need to demonstrate greater accountability for public (and presumably, private) money. In addition the Texas document has elements of a new competitive order (for example competing accreditation systems) that would be very far from our own assumptions about higher education; but let us leave these aside for a moment.

Universities instinctively feel more comfortable with the idea that they are given an education and scholarship mission, are given money to support this, and are left to work out how the outputs should be measured and presented. The new orthodoxy is that this is not sufficient and that far greater transparency is needed. Generally universities have reacted to these pressures, but have not been sufficiently pro-active in presenting their own models of accountability. But such models should do what most others (including the Texas Public Policy Foundation) have not done, that is, to present accountability as part of the larger package of pedagogy and excellence in scholarship. It is time for the international university community to put forward models of higher education that show learning and scholarship to be the focus of future planning, and how this can be implemented effectively and efficiently and transparently.

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7 Comments on “Conceptualising the new higher education: a blast from the right”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Quite honestly I don’t think it would matter much. There WILL be interference from the State once cash is going from their coffers into yours.
    But this address of yours is not getting anywhere near the core of the issue. And much as the governments like to think it’s an A+B=C logical connection. It would be a profound error for you -the universities- to take that debate for you will addressing a question that will move.
    The core here is one of perception. If you take the Harvard funding system. They have managed to get State and Federal Government to fund their supported students not only willingly but are in fact throwing moneys at them. And at a level twice to thrice what is given to the state universities. It is somewhat the same with Oxbridge but with one whole hell of a lot less justifications, but hay-ho thems the cucumbers.🙂
    Anyhow, Harvard sets it’s fee at the wealthy student. It could charge at the billing level of the Mass State University system. But given that it’s fees are coming from the pockets of Joe Citizen it might as well develop it own version of wealth redistribution and do what the State Governments have singularly failed to do, get the wealthy to pay for something. Albeit, with generous tax management aspects, but at least something.
    Basically while you are drawing moneys from the exchequer as a supplicant the State will screw you without compunction. But if you have the State over a barrel and can keep it there. By, in theory, supporting 50% of your cohort from your own moneys. When you hand over the bill for the rest there is an entirely different relationship with whichever Government party is in that day.
    Of course, this requires that University academics and management are not venial scumbags with their noses rammed firmly in the though and have a wider mission and somewhat Higher at the core of their institutions. And given recent Irish history, I’m not holding my breath on that one.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Trough even.


  3. Scotland has a short time during which to articulate an alternative to the fundamental changes taking place in HE in England. If Scotland cannot articulate a different set of values, underpinned by a different economics, both of which need to be compelling to the emerging nation, then the neo-liberal model will eventually be adopted ‘by default’.

    Some people have suggested that Scotland ought to align itself with its Northern European neighbours and make the case for higher taxes to fund better, more inclusive public services including health and education as well as care for the elderly.

    Can Scotland’s environment (the winds and the seas) this time offer the potential of an energy based economy that drives social justice? If we are going to go through another phase of the industrialisation of this landscape, can we learn from previous experiences?

  4. jfryar Says:

    Few things annoy me more than this sort of nonsense. It is as if groups of people have decided ‘there is a problem with the third-level system’ ™ and then offer solutions to those ‘problems’.

    The difficulty is that the problems have not been defined. Making people more ‘accountable’ is an idea that seems self-evidently beneficial, but without anyone explaining why that is of benefit it’s meaningless rhetoric.

    Science has taught us lots of things. Define the problem. Examine solutions. Pick the one that works best. What people seem to be doing is examining solutions for problems nobody has yet defined. Is there, for example, proof that the teaching isn’t effective? And if so, why measure it since that would seem to have already taken place if you’ve determined it to be a problem.

  5. Anna Notaro Says:

    *is time for the international university community to put forward models of higher education that show learning and scholarship to be the focus of future planning…* Hope the new model of higher education is this one! http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/06/ac-grayling-launches-private-university?CMP=twt_fd

  6. cormac Says:

    Hmm…I’m inclined to agree with jfrar. I’m not sure the ‘problem’ is very well defined. I would also be extremely wary of adopting a proposed solution to an American problem.
    It really is a very different world of academia over here – students pay 40-50 000 $ per annum in a great many colleges, not just at Harvard. Like medical insurance, it has a significant bearing on the citizen’s life. The less we have to do with this sysytem, the better


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