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.