Meer diversiteit en meer excellentie in HO

Nieuws | de redactie
8 april 2008 |

De groei van het hoger onderwijs leidt niet per se tot meer diversiteit. Want de overheersende norm is toch nog steeds die van de grote researchuniversiteit waar onderzoekers zoveel mogelijk publicaties in A-tijdschriften afleveren. ‘We zullen gedifferentieerder moeten denken over excellentie’, zo betoogde IMHE-voorzitter prof. Marijk van der Wende op een OESO-congres in Lissabon. “It has been argued various times during this conference that with the growth of the system, the diversification of it has also increased. Research on this shows in fact a different trend. We see a lot of isomorphism. Insufficient diversity at system level has been identified by the EC as a problem for European tertiary education as a whole and by various countries around, including those who introduced unified systems some time ago.

Explanations of this phenomena were usually related to the type of steering and the regulatory framework at the national level. Now we are learning that also globalisation and especially the emergence of global university rankings are having an effect here. As we all know these rankings are virtually based on research performance, mostly measured by the amount of peer reviewed articles produced. This implies that there is in fact only one area in which universities can excel and gain reputation and that is research. This leads to the phenomenon of global reputation race. This leads rather to less than to more diversity. And in fact there is only one model of the university that can have global standing: the large comprehensive research university.

This is further stimulating academic drift in the system and jeopardizes the status of activities that universities undertake in other areas, such as teaching, innovation, their contribution to regional development, to lifelong learning, etc. and of institutions with different missions and profiles. Therefore better indicators need to be developed to measure and value the performance of institutions in those areas, so that institutions would really be stimulated to excel in other areas and to develop a distinct profile and mission. Besides indicators, also the development of a good classification of institutions is helpful here. Work on this is underway in Europe and in China in consultation with the experts in the USA who developed the Carnegie Classification.

The study of rankings has also demonstrated that size matters. And we see indeed in a range of countries substantial initiatives to create larger scale, including mergers of institutions and/or research centres. When it concerns large scale infrastructure this has obvious cost-effectiveness advantages and it may indeed pay off in terms of appearance in rankings, as it creates a combined performance, in terms of publications that can be attributed to the one institution.

But, as we heard yesterday from our colleague from STI, we cannot take it for granted that more publications stand for better quality of research. Or more patterns for more effective innovation. There may also be unintended effects. Indeed, steering too much on that type of research outputs has disadvantages. Academics become much less motivated and interested in teaching or in interaction with the business community when all the rewards are related to their number of publications. In the UK the RAE was adjusted to include now also the impact and relevance side of research. This may be an example of the recommendation done in the report that we need to improve indicators for measuring research in order to avoid too many unintended effects and to make sure we are still focussing on quality and not only on quantity.

Enlargement of scale, creating more large size institutions may also have serious implications for the teaching side. The experiences there are not always favourable and have to be weighed against the possible benefits in the research area. As should also the different disciplinary domains. Effects of scale enlargement on humanities and natural/medical sciences are not quite the same. Comprehensive research universities face important challenges here across the range of disciplines and on the research – teaching nexus”.

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