The Changing Face of Global Education (Part 2)

In the second part of The Changing Face of Global Education blog, I look at the way in which universities currently operate. An Avalanche is Coming proposes that there are three features of the modern university which creates its identity; outputs (research, degrees, city prosperity); people (faculty, students, government and administration); and programme (curriculum, teaching and learning, assessment, experience).

Outputs of a university focus mainly on research and degrees. Most people think of an institution's primary output as degrees, while actually research is more important. World rankings place greatest emphasis on research in their analysis, with spending money on research a convenient way for a university to increase their global ranking. The quantity and quality of research has grown enormously, with increasing importance given to science and technology from both modern governments and businesses. In the same way, research has also increased in the humanities and social sciences.

Degrees are traditionally related to research because their purpose is to train the academics of the future. However, most undergraduate degrees fall short in teaching standards, with cancelled lectures and stand in postgraduates. For the students, it is not the teaching and learning that is most important, but actually obtaining a degree, as this is what has currency in the labour market and is seen as a passport to a range of professional opportunities. As well as undergraduate degrees, there has been a vast expansion in postgraduate qualifications, such as MBAs, masters and PhDs. In 1900 there were 300 PhD holders in the US, while in 2007 there were over 45,000 research doctorates awarded by US institutions.

The third university output is the enhancement of economic prospects to the university's region or city. This can be seen most notably in the relationship between Silicon Valley and Stanford, and Harvard, MIT and Boston where business have set up because of the proximity of the universities.

Traditionally, there are three types of people involved in a university: those involved in governance and services, the faculty and the students. The administration and service functions, which are increasingly being staffed by top professionals in specialist fields, make up the engine that keep the organisation running smoothly.

Meanwhile, the faculty lead and undertake the research and teaching, the two activities which drive the key outputs. The relationship between a faculty and organisation is different from other organisations, as a faculty member's reputation is based on his or her progress within the organisation (which is normal), as well as from the reputation of peers, contemporaries, or the public. Given the primacy of research in a university's reputation and ranking, the faculty are normally selected on the basis of their research, rather than their teaching.

The students are the final people which make up a university. Their identity has evolved over the recent years with general dramatic growth, as well as the increase in more mature students. In the US, the traditional undergraduate of 18-22 is now in the minority. As there has been a global trend in students paying more for their education, students across the world are becoming customers and are therefore voicing more opinions at university. This has also led to an increase in facilities such as living accommodation, sports etc.

The people of the university interact around a programme which represents the purpose of a university - to extend human knowledge and understanding, and pass it on to the next generation. The curriculum of these programmes is traditionally set around three or fours years study with courses decided by the leading academics in the department. Increasing specialisation has become common in the past half-century and therefore often amounts to a large array of different, unconnected courses which can be combined in different ways to achieve the necessary credit for a degree. A crucial part of the university is its degree awarding power, and this is the power which establishes its market position.

Another vital part of a university education is the experience, the experience of meeting fellow students, of being potentially inspired by new ideas and leading academics, the opportunity to socialise, to lead an organisation, to play sport, to be involved in politics, to make friends and so on. For many students today, learning outside a classroom is often more meaningful than that inside, with courses seen as unrelated to anything they might experience in the working world. There are also structured experiences which relate to the programme itself, such as study abroad, work experience, and internships.

Conclusively, there are a number of features in the university make-up which create a university brand. These features are not in the foundations, buildings or anything else concrete in an institution, but are more about the experience of the faculty and the way in which they work together to create a society, a culture. The Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that almost all of these elements of the traditional university are threatened by the avalanche, and in understanding the ways in which a university traditionally operates, we can appreciate how universities have to develop and adapt to compete with the latest developments in the global society. Next week I will be looking into a few of the ways in which universities can adapt.

Top photo by Goodfreephotos_com, Pixabay License.