ISMO Conference

The International Studies of Management and Organisations Conference took place at Greenwich University on 8-9th December 2014, and here are my notes of particular points of interest.

The keynote speaker was Andrew McGettigan (author of “The Great University Gamble”) who spoke on “Third stream mission and beyond –  activities in the new market domain”

Andrew talked about the new bundles of contracts that universities are now working with, suggesting that an old understanding of HE will not aggregate to new models.  Universities were traditionally associated with knowledge and learning, but their mission may be growing beyond that now and so the previous mission may be seen to be less relevant

He proposed that universities have a greater role in “place making” culture. Universities’’ engagement in municipalisation sees them potentially taking over provision that was previously provided by local government. This will inevitable have an Impact on university business plans and  lead to the rise of the civic university.

He suggested that across the political parties there was a growing policy consensus on devolution, with commitment to more local decision making. This will have an impact on tertiary education, and ideas such as this will have informed the recent RSA Cities Growth Commission reports. It was clear that these kinds of ideas were now being taken up by treasury eg the recent announcement of the Northern Powerhouse.

Andrew also reminded us that Greg Clarke is now Minister for Cities and Universities and that we should take note of that explicit linkage. The idea now is that the growing knowledge economy is about the regions not just limited to  London and is not about financial services

He proposed that in future universities will rely on a broader definition than that usually used for 3rd stream income (eg knowledge transfer), but in getting value from buildings and other assets and we can expect other sources of income to increase eg catering and other services that might be provided to cities.

Universities could be expected to become one stop shops for advice not just knowledge transfer. They may become a  replacement of local authority and local provision, for example after the closure of libraries sports centres. There are already plenty of examples of university activity in these spheres already, for instance the bus companies at Herts and Brookes, Cambridge housing association for staff as well as students.  Northampton University’s regeneration plans in the city were cited as they have led  to the Treasury underwriting a major bond issue. Although this increase in third stream activity is so far still piecemeal, there is a one notable change which is in education, through the sponsorship of academies, free schools UTCs etc.

One of the outcomes of universities diversifying in this way is their increased access to private investment and then borrowing increasingly. There has been an increase in debt to income ratio from 20% to 30% although we cannot yet assess what ratio would mean universities become unsustainable.

A major question for universities diversifying in this way however is that of democracy. So far we have not considered any democratic deficit in universities as they have not been as concerned with local or civic affairs However, as they become more involved in local services then questions are more likely to be asked. Are they well run? Are they democratic? If not, how can or should they contribute to local economy? Further expansion of a university into local functions should need a review of their governance (see review of governance in Scotland by Ferdinand von Prondzynski) so that they become more accountable. Governance should  be open to public and journalists with places on the board to be advertised and for there to be staff and student representations.

In conclusion, Andrew McGettigan expected that we will see policy announcements will be about cities and universities which will have implications for civic participation.


Another speaker of note was Simon Brown who talked about ERDF and NW enterprise.

  • Key was getting to the students- needs to be all the time not just GEW.
  • Differs between unis – those Unis which are research rich can get to students through societies as students are there all the time
  • Unis that are more vocational did it through curriculum, need to get through tutors etc
  • Getting the message across to students is a challenge for everybody
  • Getting message to tutors is also a challenge- do they see it as a changing role?
  • Universities going through seismic changes Previously tenure position based on your body of knowledge that you transferred to students. Not any more.
  • Enterprise and entrepreneurship aligned to employability. Employability no longer just in careers Not just the domain of business schools!
  • Staff need to be educated to help them as they got to where they are by knowing “stuff”
  • Don’t just get a degree in business, get a degree for business.

Overall, a conference well worth attending – my own paper was well received – but the most interesting comments were from Andrew McGettigan and leave me asking – do we relaise how much power might be transferred to unelected bodies? But also – what a great opportunity for a university to really drive civic regeneration!

Student Consumers

This week I gave a presentation at the ISMO conference at Greenwich University which was based in part on a previous blog article which questioned how we needed to treat degree courses still as transformational, when students are increasingly expected to be consumerist in their approaches.

The slides are here:

After a look at Newman and then Collini, I started with the work of O’Byrne and Bond (Darren O’Byrne and Christopher Bond (2014): Back to the future: the idea of a university revisited, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 2014, Vol. 36, No. 6, 571–584) who considered three paradigms that operate in HE – the academic, managerial and consumerist.


I then considered ow we could use a new pedagogy, appropriate use of technology, a subverted interpretation of graduate attributes and a rethinking of leadership to provide a way of satisfying the challenges arsing from the three paradigms.


The neoliberal, capitalist view of HE is not going to go away any time soon. Universities will still continue to recruit students who try to measure them on simple metrics such as student experience and employment 6 months after graduation. However, universities do themselves a disservice if they choose to respond to student demands in such a simplistic way.

Through the appropriate use of pedagogy, through implementation of the right technology solutions, through a revised approach to expressing the nature of graduate attributes, and through having university leadership models that enable greater participation in decision making and engagement, we will be able to show that higher education is more than a passport to employment and is still transformational.