Higher Education: Which of these 4 opportunities and threats are you prepared for?

When is a threat an opportunity? Or an opportunity a threat?

We’ve taken a look at some recent examples for the Higher Education world.

Local or European?  Hmmmm…..

A recent report (University World News article) studies research outreach by UK universities.  (Outreach is where a university partners with industry for research purposes).

Unsurprisingly, the report highlights that local partnering (within 50km of the university) increases most where there is an R&D active local business sector.  These partnerships often show large numbers of dual affiliated researchers (working concurrently for the university and a local firm). As the distance expands towards 100km, more “cross-over” researchers are present (moving between industry and the university).  

But the largest increase in partnerships over the last decade is in the 500 – 5000km range, which means...Europe.  Tied in with the European Commission funding programmes, public-private consortia and a range of large and small European firms, UK universities have become firmly embedded in the European Research Area.

So what?  This could be both an opportunity and a threat, and if not already started, Inverroy Crisis Management would advise Higher Education clients to rigorously analyse their European research involvement, and what Brexit might do to it.  Because all three outcomes are possible: European research could be enhanced, reduced, or left unaffected.

Eastern promise

The Indian Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) aims to double enrolment in HE within 5 years and resolve internal geographical anomalies as part of its Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP) (Link).  One part of the plan is to pave the way for at least 10% of the student body of top institutions to come from outside India and to firm up the policy for foreign universities in India.  Inverroy Crisis Management’s recent blog highlighted that the provision of university students and teaching staff from China may well become more difficult in future, so a relationship with India, a manufacturing powerhouse and a country of incomparable cultural riches, which wishes to develop international HE partnerships looks like a good bet for UK universities.

The noisy heart of a University beats at 300Mbps

Matthew and I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Wren Library at Trinity College Cambridge.  To see Charles Darwin’s personal copy of the first edition of The Origin of Species, was a “hairs rising on the back of the neck” moment.

Libraries were often referred to as “the heart of a University”, a very fair description – or at least it was until the internet arrived.  Spanish researchers Angel Borrego and Lluis Anglada state it pithily – “Researchers now no longer build their workflow around the library” (link) .  And as Darwin might well have said, “the species called a university library needs to adapt, or it will perish”.

Libraries need to replace large shelving areas and large book holdings with small pods and semi-private meeting spaces for group discussions.  They need super-fast broadband, large capacity print/copy/scan capabilities and multiple work-stations and charging points. Their staff need to re-define themselves as research partners and learning intermediaries rather than guardians of physical books and cloistered silence.  Bustle should replace the traditional sepulchral hush. Whilst many of us may regret the loss of quiet in a library, refusal to adapt may mean quiet for a different reason – because no-one will be there.

A depth charge

A recent report in the Guardian (link) highlights increasing anxiety and depression amongst university staff.  Despite its sometimes warm and placid image, academia can be a ruthless and demanding environment.  Administrative and teaching workloads often preclude the depth of research necessary for promotion, and financial targets can create “a treadmill of justification”.  Isolated working, pressure to publish and the damoclean sword of short-term contracts contribute to loneliness and depression. Interestingly, salaries and conditions are not cited so often among the problems – it is much more the loss of collegiality and an institutional reluctance to ask for help with mental health.  Two recent reports from The Educational Support Partnership suggest that these issues are not only commonplace but increasing.

It is therefore highly advisable for all HE institutions to actively monitor the mental health and well-being of their staff as well as their students.  And if problems emerge, then pro-actively address them, and help everyone to get over the stigma of mental health as the rest of society appears to be doing.  Don’t assume that just because you can’t see a problem beneath the surface, it’s not going to explode in future causing damage to the individual and your instituation.