Having spent almost 30 years working in universities and TAFE institutes in Australia in administrative and management positions, I am passionately interested in how the future of university management will take shape. More importantly for me, it's about the emerging professional manager in universities. I've spent almost 28 of those 30 years working with the Association for Tertiary Education in both volunteer and paid roles because of this passion. The rise of the professional manager is a topic for another post, and it is time for us to think a bit more deeply about how universities need to managed into the future. We need to move beyond the dichotomy/divide of academics and administrators, and beyond the 'third space' identified by Celia Whitchurch in her PhD thesis.
To understand how universities will need to be managed into the future, and the skills and capabilities needed by people who end up in manager roles by choice or accident, we have to begin to understand what universities as an organisational form might be like in the future. Then, we can ask how that type of organisation would need to be managed, and what we need of people who manage them.
This is a different to starting with today and extrapolating out about how today's manager role might evolve and crossing our fingers and hoping that our best guess will match the reality in 10, 20 or 50 years time. We can do this, and we are doing it, but all these extrapolations are usually based on what we know about the past and present of universities, not about how they might develop and evolve over time.
By starting with a deep discussion about the future shape of universities, their work and their positioning in society, we can begin to develop our managers today to be able to cope with the university of the future. So, the key question would then become 'how do our current perspectives on management need to shift to cater for future management needs?' How to begin to answer that question?
1. Start by developing a strong understanding of the drivers of change influencing the evolution of universities through ongoing environmental scanning. Beyond globalisation, standards, quality, funding and internationalisation, these drivers are around the changing shape and ownership of knowledge, the shifts we are already seeing in how we will work in the future, how the customisation and personalisation trend is shaping what students of the future will expect of their interaction with universities, and how technology will enable those interactions - both in terms of management and learning.
2. Challenge your assumptions about business as usual views of the future. It's really easy to assume that the future will be more of today if we don't understand how the external environment is shifting (see point 1). And a business as usual view takes less time and energy than working hard to build a deeper view of future universities. Time and energy are both under tremendous pressure in universities today, so it's no surprise that we usually take the easy road here.
3. As well as planning workshops, hold a thinking workshop or two to explore the views of staff and stakeholders about the future of universities in general, and how your university might fit into this future. You might be surprised that a business as usual approach might just see you going out of business. Think about what you need to start doing today to prepare for that type of future, and to be ready to respond to whatever challenges you confirm along the way. Scenario planning will help you see the alternative and plausible futures available to you.
4. As part of point 3, explore some alternative models for how academics and managers might work together more effectively in the future. Ask how we might move beyond the stereotyping and lack of understanding on both sides that now characterises much interaction. This is a topic for another post, but suffice to say that this relationship is critical to get right if universities are to be sustainable into the future.
The future of higher education and universities is uncertain, as is the future of university management. We can start to shape and influence both if we can lift our heads above the short-term imperatives that cause us to be really busy today. We need to make time to think about future challenges, just as we now focus a lot of attention on today's challenges.