State control or not?

This is my final wrapping up blog from the EUNIS conference. In terms of content the programme was the best I’ve experienced at a EUNIS conference with quite a few innovative ideas and a few things that, quite frankly, we should be doing in the UK. There are of course differences in the way HE is managed in different countries – in the UK the institutions are independent which can be both a blessing and a hindrance. One area where I think it is a hindrance is with regard to IT governance – the Spanish are, in my view leading the way in Europe, adopting a toolkit for IT governance across all universities in the country. This should lead to a much better integration of business aims into the institutional IT strategy and planning. The fact that this has appeared as one of the UCISA top concerns in recent surveys suggests that it is an area that is not mature in the UK.

The lack of state control may also legislate against the sort of operation that has evolved in Italy. There a database has been developed that can both provide CVs to companies looking to employ graduates and provide many of the statistics that both the state and institutions require. The system is being extended to providing better information to school leavers to try to ensure that they make better choices about their university courses. This should reduce the drop out rate. The other benefit is that the same feedback questions are being asked of school students, university students and graduates moving into their working life which has the potential to give strong statistical data for a succession of cohorts and to provide evidence that the systems are delivering. The two initiatives had some of the elements of the MIAP programme in the UK, combined with the function that HESA provides. The difference in the UK is that the HESA functionality is already established – the MIAP component (where there is greater benefit to the learner rather than the institution) has to be sold well to a sceptical audience.

That said, one benefit is the independence of institutions in the sector. This allows the UK provision to be far more varied than some of our European counterparts, with institutions largely free to choose their own mission. The consequence is that institutions have established their own identity, are used to competing with each other and as a result, are probably better equipped to compete in the international market.

To conclude, there was an interesting comment from one delegate about the impacts of the Bologna process. In the UK Bologna has hardly been on the radar but there has been rather more activity recently as 2010 – the date by which all countries who have signed up to the agreement are meant to comply to the requirements of the agreement – draws closer. The comment was ‘if you talk to our university executive they will tell you that they have implemented Bologna and it is a success. If you talk to our students, they will tell you that it is a disaster’. The UK higher education sector has a strong market brand – it will be necessary to ensure that any changes to policies as a result of moving towards Bologna implementation strengthen our position rather than weaken it. The student experience is key.

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One Response to “State control or not?”

  1. David Harrison Says:

    Good post Peter. I concur – it was a good conference; much better than I expected … I won’t comment on the negatives 😦

    Yes, it’s interesting how the Spanish are leading the way with governance – it’s worthy of some further examination to see whether it’s just the centralised approach that makes for their leadership, or whether there are other factors in play.

    You quite rightly make the point that UK-HE plc has a brand, we could be in danger of losing that leadership due to the bureaucracies of the EU, which unexpectedly (in this instance) are to the benefit of the consumer (the prospective student). So we should wake up on this one. It’s not an IT issue, per se … but who wouldn’t be surprised to see it bite us in the bum (the IT Service that is) when the deadline hour approaches. Bring back JT (or @Richter858) … !!!

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