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OECD/IMHE General conference: EUA highlights key success factors for universities during economic downturn

September 16, 2010

This week’s OECD Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) General Conference in Paris, ‘Higher Education in a World Changed Utterly: Doing more with less’ focussed on how universities could respond to the increasing demands made on them in the face of falling financial resources in the context of the global economic downturn.

While it is clear that higher education will have to adapt to this new environment, it was noted that there was a need to increase public awareness of the added value of universities, stressing that investment into higher education will reap dividends.

A repeated plea was made during the conference to use the crisis as an opportunity to think about the fundamental changes to higher education that are needed in the long term. Andrée Sursock, who represented EUA at the event, stressed that times were calling for “audacious policies and institutional strategies” that focus on how to serve society at large, with the generation of additional income as a means to strengthen the universities’ ability to fulfil their core missions.

It was also suggested during the meeting that universities will need to learn how to “do more – with more” to adapt to growing student numbers. This will require institutional diversity and better information as well as renewed attention to teaching and research.

Andrée Sursock, underlined some of the key findings of EUA’s EUDIS project and told the audience that diversification of resources can only be properly undertaken if universities have a sufficient degree of autonomy to allow them, for instance, to enter in partnerships with the private sector, to create legal entities, to own/manage their buildings, to borrow money, to hire adequate staff, etc. While there has been great progress achieved on this score in the past ten years and across the European continent, typically these autonomy reforms have been incomplete and need to be consolidated and deepened.

If autonomy is an essential condition, however, it is not sufficient. Universities need to – and are – developing new administrative functions necessary to take on income diversification challenges. Professionalisation of management and diversification of administrative staff profiles are an important part of this process. These changes require a new type of leadership and we are seeing an increasing number of new, more dynamic institutional leaders who are able to steer their institutions and set strategic priorities and goals.

The EUDIS project, the findings of which were presented at an Experts Conference in Bologna on 13-14 September, includes a regular monitoring of the impact of the economic crisis on higher education in Europe, a key topic that will be discussed during EUA’s Council in October.