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The Future of Higher Education.

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Embedding libraries in learning and research
27th IATUL Annual Conference
22-25 May 2006
Alberto Amaral
Cipes and Universidade do Porto
The University, a multi-secular institution
Many of us will remember that Clark Kerr (1982), examining
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Western World institutions already established in 1520 and still
existing today in a recognisable form, performing similar
activities without interruption, counted some 85 institutions
including the Catholic Church, the Parliaments of the Island of
Man, Iceland and Great Britain, some Swiss cantons and 70
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This long permanence of the University is explained in terms of
some of its characteristics, all of them related to the fact that
knowledge is its core business
The power of professional experts
Organisational fragmentation in terms of disciplinary areas
The extreme diffusion of the decision making power
The authority lies at the bottom, with professional academics
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Over the last few decades, the University is being faced with new
and more demanding challenges.
Globalisation and New Right policies are having considerable effect
upon education
The development of the �secondary’ welfare state was coterminous
with the movement of higher education systems towards massification
in many European countries.
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The legitimacy crisis of the welfare state.
Changes in the traditional implicit pact between the University and
There are changes in ideology and of values, and in the relationship
between higher education institutions and the state.
The �market’ emerged as the solution of all these problems.
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The University, that place of free and open debate about societal
problems has been rather uncritical of the impact of these processes
on its own nature and development.
Does this attitude result from loss of the University’s social capital
(Dill 1995) or from the dilution of society (Porter 1999)? Or is it a
sign of the absenteeism referred by Gramsci?
Indifference is actually the mainspring of history. But in a negative sense. […]
What comes to pass does so not much because a few people want it to happen,
as because the mass of citizens abdicates their responsibility and let things be.
[…] The fatality that seems to dominate history is precisely the illusory
appearance of this indifference, of this absenteeism. (Gramsci 1977: 17)
Globalisation and higher education
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Starting in 1944 with the Bretton Woods conference where the
World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
were established, and being reinforced by the Washington consensus
and the contribution of the World Trade Organization (WTO),
national trade barriers were progressively removed and a global
economy emerged.
It is in some way fascinating that some economic ideas that are �en
vogue’ today were developed in the XVIIIth and early XIXth
centuries. Adam Smith (1723-1790) is credited with the idea of the
invisible hand of the market and David Ricardo (1772-1823) was the
first proponent and paladin of unrestricted trade and free commerce.
Globalisation and higher education
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Education is today considered more as an indispensable ingredient
for economic competition and less as a social right, and it is
becoming progressively a service “[…] students are considered
consumers and asked to pay higher fees”.
Governments exert strong pressures over institutions to make them
more responsive to outside demands and to ensure that education and
research are �relevant’ for the national economy.
The market rationale includes a demand-driven orientation,
introducing short cycles and emphasis on vocationalization. The
Bologna process places strong emphasis on the contribution of higher
education to the employability of graduates and to European
Globalisation and higher education
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The market was supposed to heal the wounds caused by the
inefficiency and ineffectiveness of state control, and by the weak
managerial capacity of elected rectors and public services.
Institutions should become more flexible, more autonomous to
respond to changes in the organisational environment.
Economic globalisation has increased the role played by market
mechanisms in the provision, steering and organisation of higher
Globalisation and higher education
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In recent years a new phenomenon emerged in the higher education
context, the borderless higher education or transnational higher
education. There is not a unanimously accepted definition of these
Whatever the definition, it seems that pure e-learning did not meet
the expectations of explosive growth.
Ryan attributes low student enrolments (with exceptions such as
University of Phoenix Online and University of Maryland University
College) to a number of factors, the first two being employer
reluctance to accept the quality of online programmes and the
apparent resistance by many students to the notion of exclusively
online education.
Globalisation and higher education
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However, franchised curricula and overseas campi continue to
develop very fast in borderless higher education. This raises
problems of consumer protection associated with lack of
adequate information available to the potential students,
employers and recognition authorities. There is need to
eliminate �rogue’ providers, degree mills and bogus institutions.
Some organisations (UNESCO, Council of Europe) produced
codes of good practice and countries that are exporters of higher
education (US, UK, Australia) established codes of ethical and/or
good practice for the assurance of academic quality in the
provision of education to foreign students. Those countries want
to ensure that the behaviour of their national institutions does
not tarnish the reputation of the country’s higher education
system, which could forsake new market opportunities.
Globalisation and higher education
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Another development was the movement, under the leadership of
the US and the support of some English speaking countries, to
include higher education in the GATS trade agreements, which
would make education a service that could be sold across national
borders without any barriers.
The recent attitude of the European Union of excluding higher
education from the agreements has stalled this initiative
It remains to be seen how long this attitude of the Commission will
last, as it contradicts the European intention of becoming a
competitor of the US, Japan and Australia in the fast developing
international higher education market.
The increasing role of the market
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Over the last two decades, markets assumed an increasing
importance in the regulation of the public sector as neo-liberal
politicians regard competition as the solution to reform the �sclerotic
behaviour’ of public services by forcing them to increase their
Governments are more and more testing the introduction of marketlike mechanisms as instruments of public regulation.
The Bologna Declaration by “redefining the nature and content of
academic programmes, is transforming what were once state
monopolies over academic degrees into competitive international
The increasing role of the market
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A quasi-market is in operation when goods or services, instead of
being bought by their final users, are bought by an agent (in general
a public agent) on behalf of clients to whom these goods and services
are then allocated directly.
The efficient use of market regulation presents a number of
For the allocation of goods and services to be �optimally efficient for
the larger society’ (Leslie and Johnson 1974), the market needs to be
perfectly competitive, which implies a number of conditions that are
very difficult to fulfil.
The increasing role of the market
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Both government and market regulation may lead to inefficient
action. Non-market or government failures are related to the
fact that sometimes the government and its agencies are
incapable of perfect performance in designing and implementing
public policy, because of defects of representative democracy
and inefficiencies of public agencies to produce and to distribute
goods and services.
Market failures are the shortcomings of markets when
confronted with certain goods and conditions, namely those that
show large externalities as is the case of education. The concept
of externality is used to compare the social and private benefits
of any activity, and can be technically defined as the benefit
received by society beyond the individual private benefit.
The increasing role of the market
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As the market is a means of organising the exchange of goods and
services based upon price, additional social benefits (externalities)
will tend to be ignored, or to be too little taken into account by
market mechanisms..
Other sources of market failures are their tendency to build
monopolies resulting in inefficient outcomes, or the so called �market
imperfections’ such as prices not reflecting product scarcities and
insufficient or asymmetric information.
One problem of market competition is that it needs perfect
information by the producers and the consumers about the relevant
characteristics of the good or service being purchased in order to
work efficiently. For a market to produce efficient outcomes clients
need to make rational economic choices.
The increasing role of the market
The information problem is very acute in the case of higher
education, which has three simultaneous characteristics:
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a) It is an experience good;
b) It is a rare purchase;
c) It has very high opting-out costs.
The increasing role of the market
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The confluence of the three characteristics of education legitimates a
regulatory hand of the government to promote consumer protection,
and this includes different forms of information, such as licensing,
accreditation, and information on the quality of goods and services.
Students lack sufficient information about the quality of academic
institutions or programs to make discriminating choices as what they
need is the measure of prospective future earnings provided by
alternative academic programmes...
... not peer review evaluation of teaching processes, nor subjective
judgements of the quality of a curriculum.
The increasing role of the market
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Even if this kind of data were available, many students (or their
families) would not use it, which questions the validity of the
rational economic choices. This is what David Dill calls the problem
of immature consumers.
The problem of immature students is the rationale for “the
implementation of quasi-markets, rather than consumer-oriented
markets, for the distribution of academic programs.”
It is assumed that the state trough a government agency is more
capable of protecting the interests of immature consumers than
consumers themselves.
The increasing role of the market
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Therefore, the state is no longer a provider of higher education but
assumes a role as principal representing the interests of the
consumers by making contracts with competing institutions.
This creates a quasi-market in which the state becomes a purchaser
of services from independent providers, which compete with each
other in an internal market.
Government agencies making the purchases in the name of
consumers face the classical principal-agent dilemma: “how the
principal [government] can best motivate the agent [university] to
perform as the principal would prefer, taking into account the
difficulties in monitoring the agent’s activities.
The increasing role of the market
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Massy argues “[…] the way institutions currently respond to
markets and seek internal efficiencies, left unchecked, is unlikely to
serve the public good” (Massy 2004b: 28), a danger that is
exacerbated by excessive competition or by retrenchment
This forces the state to intervene by changing the rules of the market
to ensure the fulfilment of its own political objectives (the interfering
That is why governments have been introducing an increasing
number of performance indicators and measures of academic
The increasing role of the market
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Better information is also important for producer effectiveness:
“Information on the quality of a product provides an incentive
for producers to invest in quality improvements and thereby
better compete in the market.”
Both principals and student consumers may have imperfect
information about the true quality of academic programmes –
that is, the value added they provide to the student and
ultimately to society – but, because of the distinctive properties
of universities, the producers may have imperfect quality
information as well. Because of traditions of academic autonomy
and specialisation, professors may also lack sufficient
information to judge the quality of academic programmes and
may as a consequence fail to improve them.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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Over the last two decades, the intrusion of the rhetoric and
management practices of the private sector into higher education
resulted in important changes in the operation of higher education
These changes are associated to a movement, from the public good
concept of knowledge to one of commercialisation and �private’
ownership, that challenges many traditional academic values, such as
the ideal that knowledge should be free and universal.
Traditional university governance became the target of fierce
criticism, and the multi-secular tradition of collegial governance is
today considered inefficient. corporative.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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�New managerialism’ exerts strong pressures for changing the
organisation of higher education institutions, mainly by limiting
collegial power at all institutional levels: central administration,
schools and departments. It is claimed that collegial power
promotes and reproduces corporative instincts that result in
irrational and inefficient decisions.
Only the (partial or total) replacement of the collegial model by
an integrated management model will transform higher
education institutions into professional organisations “oriented
towards the product”, with strong emphasis on pursuing
measurable objectives and targets.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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The advocates of �new managerialism’ claim that the
introduction of market mechanisms in the management of
public services “[…] would provide that imperative drive
towards operational efficiency and strategic effectiveness so
conspicuously lacking in the sclerotic professional monopolies
and corporate bureaucracies that continued to dominate public
Under new public management the public are clients of
government, and administrators should seek to deliver services
that satisfy clients. In higher education, too, students are
referred to as customers or clients, and in most higher education
systems quality assurance and accountability measures have
been put in place to ensure that academic provision meets client
needs and expectations.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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Models were imported from the corporate world trying to replace
the slow, inefficient decision making processes of academic
The reinforced presence of external stakeholders in university
governance intends to promote responsiveness to the �external world’
and appointed Presidents with sound managerial curricula are
replacing elected academics at the rudder of the university vessel.
Entrepreneurial values and attitudes are forced upon the academics
and tenure is being abolished on the grounds that it inhibits the
business spirit.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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The development of academic capitalism and the introduction of
departments, and faculties to increasingly engage “in competitive
behaviour similar to the one prevailing in the marketplace for
funding, grants, contracts, and student selection and funding”.
The emergence of the new public management and the attacks on the
efficiency of public services including higher education resulted in
loss of trust in institutions.
The final result of this process was the reinforcement of quality
assessment mechanisms and the current move from assessment to
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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One consequence of new public management policies appears to
be a strong attack on the professions, and specifically on the
academic profession.
The academy no longer enjoys great prestige on which higher
education can build a successful claim to political autonomy
(Scott 1989). One observes the gradual proletarisation of the
academic professions – an erosion of their relative class and
status advantages (Halsey 1992). Patent policies also made
faculty more like all other worker, making faculty, staff and
students less like university professionals and more like
corporate professionals whose discoveries are considered workfor-hire, the property of the corporation, not the professional.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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The �de-professionalisation’ of academics has been coupled with a
claim to professional status by administrative staff.
Thirty years ago administrators were “very much expected to
operate in a subservient supportive role to the academic community,
very much in a traditional Civil Servant mould” (Amaral et al 2003:
286) and in the meetings of the academia they were expected to be
seen but not to be heard. Today, managers for their part see
themselves as essential professional contributors to the successful
functioning of the contemporary university.
Institutions are increasingly using micromanagement mechanisms to
respond to outside pressures.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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Management control technologies include systems for evaluation
and performance measurement of research, teaching and some
administrative activities, particularly those linked to finance.
The replacement of values associated with autonomy and academic
freedom by criteria of economic rationality (Miller, 1995; Harley &
Lowe, 2003; Slaugther & Leslie, 1997), coincides with closer scrutiny
of the performance of professionals.
The explicit control of academic work through evaluation replaces
trust in professionalism, formerly based upon individual selfregulation, implicit quality criteria and peer review.
New Public Management, governance and loss of trust
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The loss of trust in academics is also related to the massification
The pressures for the direct assessment of the quality of teaching,
arise chiefly out of the emergence of mass higher education and its
effects on both teachers and students
There is (Trow) a greater emphasis on teaching as a distinct skill that
itself can be taught (and assessed), and places the student and the
process of learning, rather than the subject, at the center of the
educational enterprise, a Copernican revolution.
System level and institutional level convergence
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At the level of national higher education systems, similar political
reforms seem to be taking place all over the world. The criticism
of traditional academic norms and values, the reinforcement of
the economic role of higher education, the emergence of new
managerialism or the professionalisation of institutional
management, the increasing role of external stakeholders, the
diversification of funding sources and the rolling-back of public
funding, financing becoming increasingly dependent upon
evaluation according to �criteria of performativity’ linked to
economic needs, the increasing primacy of �relevance’ of teaching
and research, all taken together, compose a common picture that
cannot be explained solely by “the functional, national-cultural
or rational–instrumental theories that have dominated the study
of education systems or the curriculum hitherto.
System level and institutional level convergence
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World institutionalists developed the argument that the institutions
of the nation-state, including the state itself, are moulded at a
supranational level by the dominant values and processes of the
Western ideology, rather than being autonomous and specific
national creations.
Others see globalisation as “a set of political-economic arrangements
for the organisation of the global economy, driven by the need to
retain the capitalist system rather than any set of values.
In industrial advanced countries, adherence to the new principles of
globalisation result from a pragmatic view of national self interest, a
widespread belief that there is no alternative to globalisation and by
political economic leverage.
System level and institutional level convergence
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In developing countries, the stark reality of an increasing gap
separating them from the more affluent countries and their
frequent dramatic economic situation, places them in the hands of
the Bretton Woods organisations, which condition international
loans to the strict adherence to free trade and public funding
To understand the process of international convergence of higher
education systems, one can ignore neither the dynamics of
globalisation and the hegemony of neo-liberal discourses and policies
(Torres and Schugurensky 2002), nor the role of national
governments in trying to establish conditions for national prosperity
and inclusion among the winners of the game of globalisation.
System level and institutional level convergence
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Supranational economic forces, reinforced by capital mobility,
contribute to shaping and constraining those conditions in a greater
or lesser degree, which explains the important effects of
globalisation on national education systems.
On the other hand, the international economic imperative to remain
competitive in the global market, although playing a major role, does
not fully explain the convergence of higher education reforms in
different societies. It is also necessary to consider “the role of
corporate foundations and supranational institutions in fostering
particular reforms impacting higher education”
System level and institutional level convergence
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Ball (1998) explains the dissemination of these “universal”
influences internationally using Levin’s (1998) medical metaphor
and by the sponsorship or even enforcement of particular policy
solutions by multilateral agencies (Jones 1998).
Levin (1988) epidemiological model draws an analogy between the
present education policy transfers and the spread of a disease, where
international experts, policy entrepreneurs, and representatives of
organisations selling tailor-made miraculous solutions for national
problems are the analogues of infectious agents moving from country
to country looking for suitable hosts.
One sees that at least at “macro level” higher education systems
apparently are converging all over the world, although at micro
level strong local and national characteristics have been retained
that play against uniformity..
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System level and institutional level convergence
According to Halpin and Troyna “countries seem to be doing similar
things, but on closer examination they are not as similar as it first
National characteristics still play an important role, even when
internal reforms of the systems are legitimated, at least at rhetoric
level, by the country’s need of assuming a position in the increasingly
System level and institutional level convergence
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National specificities are mediated by state actions, which
paradoxically enhance internally its regulation strength. This
apparent paradox between the external weakening of sovereignty
and internal strengthening of the state can be seen in the
implementation of Bologna process in which the European political
objectives are masked by national interests as each country reverts
to a national logic to fulfil national objectives.
Convergence takes place mainly at the highest international level, by
setting a common agenda for the political management of higher
education systems. However, when governments implement national
policies they are influenced by national characteristics and by their
own internal political agenda. At global level this produces a
disarray of political objectives that play against convergence.
System level and institutional level convergence
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What is the influence of the apparent process of international
convergence of higher education systems at institutional level?
Trying to answer this question one will resort to neo-institutional
theories without ignoring “that new institutionalism suffers from an
under appreciation of diversity”
There are three categories of isomorphism: coercive, mimetic, and
normative. Coercive isomorphism is largely imposed from outside
the organisation – governmental regulation and the dominance of
cultural expectations may impose standardisation. Mimetic
isomorphism results from copying those organisations regarded as
successful – bench-marking exercises or the use of a limited pool of
advisors may result in copying similar organisations. Normative
isomorphism arises where members of the organisation impose
internally the dominant norms they are socialized with.
System level and institutional level convergence
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The state is viewed as the main originator of coercive forces. At the
level of higher education systems the similarity of reforms taking
place all over the world, is in part due to globalisation. However, as
the state is responsible for the implementation of those reforms
through law enactment and other regulation mechanisms, one may
consider the state responsible for exerting strong pressures over
institutions favouring their isomorphism.
There are also supranational organisations or movements that
originate coercive forces. An example is the European Bologna
process that aims at promoting the convergence of the European
national higher education systems to create a European area of
higher education.
System level and institutional level convergence
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International organisations holding the �power of the purse’ (WB
and IMF) can originate strong isomorphic pressures. Other
international agencies such as OECD and UNESCO can influence
governments by means of international surveys and analyses.
Universities are complex organisations and it is difficult to
determine the relative weights of coercive/non-coercive categories of
isomorphism that explain their behaviour. If a university belonging
to a country negotiating a World Bank loan decides to present itself
as an �entrepreneurial’ university what is the relative mix of
coercive and non-coercive isomorphism? Is the university paving its
way to a share of the loan? Is the university �persuaded’ by the
lending agency? Did the academic staff become socialised with the
idea of �entrepreneurship’? Did the university decide to copy
another example of success?
System level and institutional level convergence
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Other examples of coercive/non-coercive mix are found in
�academic drift’ (Levy 1999) and in the loss of diversity due to the
unification of former higher education binary systems in the UK
and Australia.
Academic drift may result from less prestigious institutions
(polytechnics) trying to emulate the more prestigious universities
(mimetic isomorphism) and/or from increasing percentage of new
university graduates – socialised to the practices of traditional
academic culture – in the academic staff (normative isomorphism).
System level and institutional level convergence
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At micro level there are conflicting pressures bearing on
institutions. On the one hand, the new emphasis on strategic
planning and mission statements may result in the definition of
institutional identities that will protect diversity. This may be
reinforced by defensive institutional strategies in looking for
particular market niches and by a closer link of universities to
regional development.
On the other hand, there are strong isomorphic pressures acting
both at global level and at national. Some activities imported from
the business world such as benchmarking, quality evaluation and
accreditation, as well as competitive funding mechanisms may
reinforce isomorphic pressures, namely if some of these activities
assume an international character.
System level and institutional level convergence
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What is probably happening in higher education institutions is
the emergence of a hybridised model of organisational structure
and decision-making processes. This phenomenon can for
instance be observed in the coexistence of management teams, or
managers (for information, for quality, etc.) with more
traditional modes of academic administration (peer review,
progression in the academic career based upon judgments by
peers and collegiality in a number of decisions).
At this moment I remind myself of the wise words of Guy Neave
(1995), to avoid any temptation of acting like an old seer. Neave
considers that if the forecasts are for the very near future one
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runs the risk of being contradicted by reality. If they are
cautiously made for the very long future no one will have the
patience to worry about them. To make prophecies less reliable
and seers less confident, it happens that the university is a very
complex institution that interacts with its environment and
influences policy implementation. Therefore I will limit myself to
a few short concluding remarks about the future of higher
The behaviour of individual institutions is difficult to forecast.
Social organisations in general, and universities in particular, are
too complex for their behaviour to be fully explained by any theory
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so far developed. Organisations respond in diverse ways to
external change and expectations and the government is not “an
almighty actor that can deterministically prescribe changes in the
management structures, culture and function of higher education
institutions”. Therefore, the implementation of policies at micro
level will introduce further randomness in the final results of the
higher education global agenda.ducation global agenda.
In relation to a decade ago there are today much stronger
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pressures favouring the convergence of higher education systems.
However, there are strong local and national characteristics that
play against uniformity and are slowing down convergence
processes. Some authors even argue that �globalisation’ is not
incompatible with some forms of diversity..
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The logic of globalisation tolerates, indeed requires, the promotion of
cultural (and possibly political) difference and diversity.
Globalisation will build on diversity and needs to work through
patterns that seem paradoxical – both global and decentred – forms
of social organization, which convey powerful symbolic images of
choice, freedom and diversity. (Jones 1998: 149)
The influence of new public management may not yet be readily
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visible in higher education institutions. On the one hand there are
signs, observable in institutional discourses and practices, indicating
that “managerialism” is winning some ground from traditional
academic management. On the other hand there is resistance from
many academics sceptical of the new organisational forms.
There will be an increasing competition between higher education
institutions and national systems for national and foreign students
and for research funding, which will result in an increasing
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stratification of the higher education systems, nationally and in the
International organisations such as UNESCO, the OECD and the
European Commission are already playing with rankings, league
tables and classifications of universities. This will also lead to
concentration of the research function in a small number of
institutions and the proliferation of teaching-only institutions.
I want to conclude on a more optimist tone. I do not share the
opinion of those who, after declaring the decline of the modern
University, suggest that it should be killed in order to be reinvented,
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following the idea that post-modern problems cannot be solved by
modern means (Bauman), or that one needs not a transformation of
the University but a dramatic discontinuation, a radical change of
paradigm. I still believe that the University will survive once more to
the new challenges, even it has to assume new organisational forms
to resist and to adapt to outside pressures, while preserving its core
values and mission.
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