Friday, May 16, 2008

Managing Universities

Two of our keynote speakers are tackling the thorny issue of management, particularly in relation to issues of management within a mass higher education system.

Mike Shattock's presentation is called 'Managing the University in an Age of Austerity'. He will suggest that: "Increasing pressures on public expenditure will raise significant policy issues in relation to the priorities, organisational structures, funding arrangements and the management of higher education systems." In other words, when money becomes tight, it's time to change some practices.

Mary Evans, in her presentation entitled "Managing the Mind: contemporary universities and the management of knowledge", will be concerned with the ways in which European universities have responded to the political agenda of mass higher education. She will consider "whether or not the effect of 'managing' universities is to decrease all desirable functions of universities: those of education, skills and creativity."

I don't want to reduce what will undoubtedly be complex arguments from these two speakers into a polarized debate, but it does sometimes feel that those within universities are either 'for' or 'against' the influx of the managers/administrators/bureaucrats. Are we living in an age in which the public purse can not be expected to fully fund mass higher education systems, in which case issues of management become crucial for universities? Or have we ushered in a thoughtless, bureaucratic style to the running of higher education institutions, and in doing so lost sight of the distinct contribution to society that universities make?

I'm painting a simplistic picture here, so I'm looking forward to continuing the discussions at the Symposium.


andrew said...

This reminds me of the dichotomy Gerard Quinn pointed out in the most recent issue of your CKI magazine:

"It is also worth reminding ourselves that universities are, and are meant to be, highly peculiar environments. They are pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, universities stand apart from the world around them and it is precisely this separateness that gives universities authority, credibility and the capacity to engage in fresh and critical thinking; thinking that can often lead to solutions for pressing issues in the broader world. It is vitally important that this separateness should not be compromised nor be seen to be compromised.

On the other hand, universities are naturally drawn to the world mainly because knowledge comes from the world and it belongs to the world. Knowledge provides the wherewithal to solve pressing problems and to move public policy forward. As knowledge holders in a wide variety of disciplines we, as academics, are naturally drawn to the world in different ways.

Perhaps the chief civic virtue of the academic is to give back to the community the wherewithal to solve its own problems ..."

Kelly said...

Thanks, Andrew, for this very appropriate quote. It gives me the opportunity to highlight one of the themes of the Symposium, which is civic engagement.

Professor Ronaldo Munck from DCU will be offering a workshop in which he will pose some questions about civic engagement for discussion. These include:

Is the best way to integrate a community element into the contemporary university through its role in terms of knowledge development? Much as many universities have a link with industry in pursuit of ‘knowledge transfer’, should they not also be linked to the communities around them in an active partnership to pursue a genuine ‘knowledge exchange’?

I think these questions resonate with your post, and they point to very important considerations about the ways in which universities relate to the societies around them.