The reader is left with the impression that the steering of higher education is often too “top down” and lacks sufficient contact with reality. Strategic plans do not necessarily state a definite course of action. That would be to offer a hostage to fortune. Attempts to diversify by means of performance-based funding may not always function as anticipated. Even European standards and guidelines do not always manifest face validity when operationalised, and the “beast” of quality assurance may need to be tamed in response to the gentler needs of arts universities. The New Public Management from which much was expected is not always appropriate for higher education, and the “freedom” that neo-liberalism touted has not led to a retreat of the government (vide Broucker et al.). On the contrary, power is reasserted through the process of regulation. Though most of the measuring instruments in the second section of the book have clear limitations, transformational institutional research is what we strive for; and the internalised academic values that constitute academic essentialism are still an important lodestar.The contributions to this volume cover an extremely broad array of topics but provide three clear lessons to the sector. First, whilst institutional leadership is increasingly concerned to develop mission statements and locate the HEIs in wide range of league tables, there appears to be little clear headedness about the meaning of such activities. Arguably, there is a great deal of empty rhetoric about institutional positioning with regard to strategy and ranking: there seems to be little reflection at institutional level on whether either of these things is useful to an institution or whether the position in any particular ranking has any effect whatsoever on such matters as student recruitment. Second, the chapters highlight the value of good institutional research to the development of policy and positioning but they contain also an implicit critique of existing research instruments. The case of stakeholder feedback is particularly pertinent. Whilst feedback is routinely collected across the sector on all aspects of stakeholders’ experience, little attempt is made to triangulate such data or to view those data as informing improvement. Third, movements such as NPM and approaches such as PBF are clearly having an impact: individual institutions and the sector as a whole wrestle with continuing financial challenges because public funding is increasingly being replaced by student fees and corporate sponsorship. These developments appear to challenge the very essence of the academic endeavour by calling into question the nature of the academic as free thinker and citizen of the Republic of Letters.
|Title of host publication||Positioning Higher Education: From Here to There|
|Editors||Rosalind Pritchard, Attila Pausits, James Williams|
|Place of Publication||Rotterdam|
|Publication status||Published - Aug 2016|
- Institutional Performance and Positioning
- Quality Assurance
- New Public Management
- European Standards and Guidelines
Pritchard, R., Pausits, A., & Williams, J. (2016). Introduction to edited book. In R. Pritchard, A. Pausits, & J. Williams (Eds.), Positioning Higher Education: From Here to There (pp. ix-xvii). Rotterdam: Sense.