Vogel Wakefield: the movie

We often get asked, “What’s it like to work with you?” So we’ve attempted to answer that question in this video, showcasing our work in universities.

Thanks to contributors Professor Frank Finlay, Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of Leeds, and Katherine Bond, Director of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London. And to our friends at the production company, Impact Video.

Universities and public value

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BBC Test Card image.

Higher education’s status as a not-for-profit public service operating in a globally competitive market is unusual. There are not many comparable institutions – and this can make HE’s travails, as it contemplates regulatory change, seem like a lonely struggle.

But HE is not alone. An analogous institution is the BBC. There are affinities in terms of cultural role, independence and longevity. But the most striking is the exposure to competition while pursuing public purposes. This creates a tendency towards managerialism and instrumentalism that can be counter-productive. To keep this tendency in check, and retain public support, the BBC turned to the concept of public value. Universities are now exploring the same avenue, as they try to regain public connection, revealed by the Brexit vote to be threadbare.

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Universities must define which market they are in

two-universities
Universities of East London and Oxford

Like it or not (and assuredly, many don’t) universities exist in an increasingly marketised environment. Current, proposed changes to the sector bring all this in to sharp focus. The new regulatory regime set out in the current Higher Education and Research Bill is particularly significant here. The introduction of the TEF means that for the first time universities will be assessed on the quality of their teaching, as well as that of their research. This is going to put some universities in the Russell Group in particular in a very challenging position. Such has been the status accorded to research over teaching (something actively encouraged by government policy up until now) that many universities have cross-subsidised their research from the fees they earn from teaching. For how much longer can that go on, or to the extent that it has? Faced with not being rated “Gold” for teaching and losing the fees that go with it, will some universities be able to afford to cross-subsidise? And if not, what happens to their research rankings?

What’s more, universities are set to face yet more competition for students. Already some continental universities (Maastricht is a good example) are actively courting the British market. Further down the line the challenger institutions envisaged in the current Higher Education Bill could present a real competitive threat – particularly, if as seems likely, they innovate in terms of the flexibility they offer students.

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A university’s strategy won’t succeed if it doesn’t excite staff

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John Henry Newman defined an exciting purpose for universities.

We recently ran a workshop with a university as part of some work we are doing with it on its strategy. In one exercise, we asked those present to reflect on what it was that they found exciting about it. The results were illuminating and we were hopeful that it would enable the team to engage their colleagues more effectively in the merits of what they were proposing. However, I was surprised when one member of the team commented that the word “exciting” was an odd one to use in relation to a strategy. He’d never heard it so used before. To which my reply was “what’s the point of a strategy that isn’t exciting?”

The term “strategy” is perhaps one of the most over-used and abused words in organisations both public and private. To some it’s a kind of virility symbol, to others it reeks of business school managerialism. At its most basic, a strategy is (or should be) a carefully considered, evidence-based plan for allocating an organisation’s resources in the most effective way possible to secure a desired end.

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Higher education round-up

art and tech

Here’s a round-up of our series on higher education. People were asking us, “What’s it like to work with you?” So we wrote this series to provide an answer. In the posts below, we explore what we’ve learned from working in the sector and what our counter-consultancy approach has to offer universities and those who work in them:

Image courtesy University of Salford.

Reconnecting universities to their public purposes

obu

This is the final post in our series looking at how our counter-consultancy approach meets the needs of higher education institutions. Here we explore how interdisciplinarity and external collaboration can revitalise the public value of universities.

Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships provide a foundation for universities to renew their public value. This is because they grow out of the genuine and distinct strengths of a particular institution and point to how it can make a unique contribution to addressing society’s challenges. But this contribution can be realised only if there is clarity about the institution’s public purposes: the generic ones it shares with other higher education establishments and the distinct one that arise out of its own particular circumstances.

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The emergent route to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration in higher education

networking

This is the third in our series looking at how our counter-consultancy approach meets the needs of higher education institutions. Here we explore the complex nature of university cultures and how we use conversation and reflection to mobilise distributed leadership.

Interdisciplinarity can address a university’s need for funds and a distinctive marketing proposition but also the individual academic’s need for compelling research opportunities. If each university has unique research strengths, these can be synthesised into interdisciplinary ventures which pursue approaches to research excellence that can’t be replicated easily elsewhere. This creates compelling reasons for funds, students and academics to gravitate to particular institutions. It counters a view of higher education as a largely undifferentiated, instrumental business with one which construes it as comprising diverse institutions each with intrinsic value and distinctive contributions to make to the world’s knowledge.

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Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships: components of revenue generation and public value in higher education

library

Over recent years, we have developed a focus on supporting academics and managers in universities who are trying to foster greater interdisciplinary working and greater engagement with external partners. This series of blog posts reviews our learning in this area and explores how our counter-consultancy approach is especially suited to resolving challenges that higher education institutions encounter in pursuing interdisciplinary objectives.

Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships are distinct but closely related areas for universities. While disciplines represent communities of practice that transcend the boundaries of any one university, the idea of disciplines also serves as an institutional heuristic that facilitates internal ways of organising. But in their pursuit of research outcomes that deliver tangible value to society, universities are finding that questions that range across disciplinary distinctions are increasingly salient. This is largely driven by the complexity and pace of change of the modern world. Governments and other funders of research are searching for solutions to big global challenges that are best approached through joined-up interdisciplinary enquiries. Funding is increasingly focussed around themes such as demographic change and wellbeing, food security or climate change. External partners too, caught up in this complexity, are bringing research questions that range across disciplinary distinctions.

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Universally challenged: higher education in the 21st Century

Studying

It’s higher education week on the Vogel Wakefield blog. We’re looking at what we’ve learned from working in the sector and what our counter-consultancy approach has to offer universities and those who work in them. In this first post in the series, we take an overview of the challenges facing higher education institutions.

It’s now almost five years since we set up shop. From the outset we identified higher education as the sector we most wanted to work in, alongside that of the media from whence we hail. We are now fortunate enough to count some major universities as clients but our learning about higher education goes way beyond them to the many people from a very wide range of institutions who have been generous with their time in helping us gain an understanding of their sector. Add to this all the reading and reflection we’ve done and we feel that now is a good time to share our thoughts on what we’ve found out, and where universities might most usefully focus their efforts in addressing the challenges they all face. This post sets out our views in broad terms while following ones in the series will go into some of our key themes in more detail.

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The role of business schools in society

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Business school lecture: a force for good or harm?

Book review: Confronting Managerialism: How the Business Elite and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out of Balance by Robert R. Locke and J.-C. Spender

One of the striking characteristics of the debate about the economic crisis is the ease with which the epithet “anti-capitalist” is used to describe even the mildest critique of the status quo. Even David Cameron (a fleeting champion of “moral capitalism”) was at it last week, condemning as “anti-business” people who argue that the bosses of large corporations should restrain themselves from accepting obscene pay awards when the performance of their companies has been poor.

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