Posted tagged ‘funding cuts’

The cuts culture

May 3, 2011

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.

The new higher education environment

December 2, 2010

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.