Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report
Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency
Ballroom, Washington, D.C.
Quentin Thompson, Education Consultant
I've watched the Bank develop its own policies towards
education, higher education in particular, and I have to say that
of the policy documents and policy-oriented documents that the Bank
has produced or been responsible for in some way on higher education,
this is by far the best. I think it's balanced and not value laden,
unlike some of the previous ones. I think it's clearly written by
people who understand education, as opposed to some of the previous
documents. I think it puts rate of return in its proper place, which
is about 3 paragraphs in the middle of a 90 page document. I think
it emphasizes the other contributions that education makes to the
development of civilized society, to culture and so on. I think
it rejects correctly the over-simplistic view that markets can solve
all problems, and I very much welcome the statements about general
education at the end there. I don't think that's heretical, I think
But I'd like to think of it as a discussion document,
as Professor Rosovsky said. This is the beginning of a discussion
rather than the end, and I hope that's how the authors view it.
And in that spirit, I'd like to make five creative suggestions:
My first point is that I think there needs to be more
thinking and clarity on the public/private split - on both the public/private
splits - the split on provision and the split on funding. The split
on provision is not a clear distinction any more; it's not a clear
dichotomy. If you think of the corporatized public universities
- the distinction between them and the not-for-profit private universities
is very very slender. It may be more useful not to think of simply
public/private, but to think of public, totally-owned, dominated
bureaucratic universities on the one hand, and public universities
that have been subject to some form of corporatisation, now operating
on a semi-autonomous or sometimes a totally autonomous basis, but
still public in some way.
I speak with some feeling on this, because it's always
quite difficult as a Brit to describe what the British universities
are - are they public or are they private? It's not an easy question
to answer. Further, the private not-for-profits in some countries,
in some of the Latin America countries for example, are now maintaining
that since they're operating on exactly the same principles as some
of the public universities, why shouldn't they be funded in the
same way as the public universities? And it's not a bad question.
So I think that the public/private distinction is too simple.
The second distinction of public/private is on funding:
although one of the speakers said the question of financing is dealt
with extensively in the literature, there is one aspect of financing
that is not dealt with in the literature, and that's the mechanism
by which public financing reaches the institutions. That seems to
me to be a neglected area. It can be used very effectively as a
policy tool for influencing the direction of a system. It can be
used, for example, to encourage mergers between institutions, desperately
needed in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. And the funding
mechanism can also be used as a mirror for the market. There are
many different ways of approaching the funding mechanism as a policy
device. I think that point could do with some more development.
My second point concerns research. Here I'm in danger
of having tomato juice poured over me. I think it's important to
distinguish between the concept of scholarship and the concept of
research. Scholarship is the work that's necessary to enable good
teaching to take place, and research is extra work of a research
nature that isn't necessary for teaching but is desirable.
I like the idea of a strategy and a stratification
of a system of research but a little bit more thought could be given
to the idea that some countries may not need the top stratosphere
- the research-based universities. Not all countries can afford
research-based universities. It's worthwhile making the point and
developing the theme that it's perfectly acceptable for a country
not to have research-based universities. And there, I do agree with
Dr Levi's point about top-down. The model held of research and the
concept of research is that of a prestigious academic university.
There are many universities where that's not appropriate - particularly
where there's a danger of giving the message to individual members
of academic staff that you're only a proper academic if you undertake
research. That just isn't true.
My third point concerns accountability. Accountability
with its two paragraphs is under-emphasized compared with the rate
of return and its three paragraphs. I think as universities in developing
countries move towards greater autonomy, so the concept of accountability
becomes much more important. It's not a topic that has been adequately
explored in my point of view. Everyone pays lip-service to it, but
what does it really mean? How is the university to be held accountable?
To whom is it to be held accountable? When you talk about monitoring
and rewarding performance - and incidentally what about applying
sanctions for poor performance as well as rewarding good performance
- who's going to do that? How is performance to be measured? What
are the variables we're talking about here, and particularly about
quality and quality assurance approaches?
My fourth point is on governance and management. I
agree it is the largest internal weakness of the system and here
I have to say, Professor Rosovsky, it's not only the largest weakness
in the 80% of world's universities covered by your report, but it's
also the largest weakness in the 20% that weren't (ie in developed
countries). Here we're talking about individual rights and responsibilities.
I think there's a danger, not in your document, but in developing
- and developed - countries, of emphasizing rights and underplaying
responsibilities. Individual accountability is critical within the
university: for example, the use of time; for example the achievement
of outputs; for example the appraisal of performance.
Moonlighting; yes I can see the advantage of moonlighting.
I can also see big disadvantages. And it depends on the extent to
which the individual academic is intended to be a full-time member
of staff. Some faculties can allow their staff to moonlight and
some can't - or some faculties don't have the facilities to do it
- which is unfair. So moonlighting needs to have a different name.
It's called left-hand work in Vietnam which I think is rather intriguing
- Halsey Beemer says may be something to do with sinister academics.
But the concept of moonlighting can be made respectable as long
as the income generated by the moonlighting is seen to be income
belonging to the university rather than to the individual academic.
Then there's nothing wrong with it at all. And as long as that income
is somehow shared fairly between those who can undertake such work
and those who can't - either because they're undertaking duties
for the university or because their own field does not lend itself
to such work. But some discussion of that as a concept is worthwhile.
The other internal governance and management point
which certainly applies to universities in developed as well as
in developing countries is the question of internal efficiency.
Just as an example, staff/student ratios in many developing countries
are higher than they are in developed countries - which seems odd.
Certainly in universities in some of the countries in which I've
been working, it would be possible for each individual member of
staff to do five times as much work for the university and to be
paid five times as much enabling the university to cope with only
one fifth of the staff. That would improve quality without increasing
the cost, because the best fifth should be retained.
My fifth and final point is also Dr Levi's: how do
we get there from here? It would be a very helpful discussion to
debate the next steps - how countries can use models that are developed
from this in their own thinking.
I'm sure there's an awful lot more to talk about but
I'm glad that you view this as a start. I look forward to the dialogue.