Learning to Compete in European Universities

Learning to Compete in European Universities

From Social Institution to Knowledge Business

Edited by Maureen McKelvey and Magnus Holmén

This book addresses the critical issue of how and why European universities are changing and learning to compete. Anglo-Saxon universities particularly in the US, the UK and Australia have long been subject to, and responded to, market-based competition in higher education. The authors argue that Continental and Nordic universities and higher education institutes are now facing similar pressures that are leading to a structural transformation of the university sector.

Chapter 11: Running the Marathon

William B. Cowan, Robin Cowan and Patrick Llerena

Subjects: business and management, knowledge management, innovation and technology, knowledge management


William B. Cowan, Robin Cowan and Patrick Llerena Universities are delicate organizations, and can be destroyed. Elaine Scarry It’s all very well for you to say that: you have tenure. A junior colleague INTRODUCTION Universities, private and public alike, indubitably compete, and in many ways. But over which spoils? There is general agreement that the markets in which they compete are not normal ones: almost no contemporary university pursues profit-maximization as its ultimate goal (Bok, 2003; Kirp, 2003). What, then, is the goal? It’s easy to compile a long list of circumstances in which competition is observed: undergraduate and graduate student recruitment, professorial hiring, fund-raising, gaining support for research, and so on.1 In each case it is possible to identify a scarce resource, such as top students or prominent professors. Yet, the competition, usually against other universities, to gain the lion’s share of the resource is clearly instrumental. Acquiring good students or prominent professors or ample funding is not the goal of the university; they merely contribute to achieving a superordinate goal. What is that goal? A standard justification for the public support of the university, or any other institution, is that it provides some public good. If the products of a university could be privately owned and were easily appropriable, it would be difficult to justify public funding. Industrial firms could fund the research output, internalizing the results in their own products. Equally they could fund training, benefiting from the increased human capital of their...

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