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Professor Sir Colin Campbell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham
How to Make Structural and Operational Arrangements to Balance Academic,Administrative and Market Forces on Campus: the Nottingham Experience

Nowadays, universities operate in a global market. Increasingly, students and staff make decisions on an international basis so that universities in the UK compete not only with each other, but also with the very best institutions in the world.

Like all businesses, universities must seek to maximize their income, but unlike businesses, universities are not seeking to maximize 'profits'. They are (with some exceptions largely in the US) not-for-profit organizations established to excel in teaching and research. Nonetheless, universities are in competition with each other in trying to raise funds -- to earn revenues and get as large a share of public funding as possible.

Universities must develop a competitive edge in order to attract more students, better staff and more public funding. Marketing departments have sprung into existence in recent years - publications have become professional, advertising and headhunting are sophisticated, Open Days attract thousands of students onto campus, and attractive web sites receive thousands of hits a day. Yet without a quality product to sell, universities will not succeed in this new competitive global environment.

How do universities seek to improve quality so as to compete globally?

There is no doubt that money helps. It buys top quality staff and state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities. But no Government can afford to fund the global explosion in demand for higher education, so universities must seek to diversify their income. Each institution will have its own balance of income from sources such as:

  • Research contracts

  • Industry-funded research

  • Technology transfer and the commercialization of research

  • Tuition fees

  • Development campaigns

    In order to provide teaching of the highest quality and to carry out groundbreaking research, staff must be motivated. Academic staff are not motivated solely by financial rewards. If they were they would not be working in higher education in the first place. It is important to give academics the freedom from bureaucracy that enables them to achieve their full intellectual capability. The UK has made considerable progress in recent years even if the system is still over-regulated.

    So if a quality, competitive university is created with a healthy injection of income from various sources and a motivated staff, how is success measured?

    League tables and performance indicators would claim to be the answer. There is no doubt they make compelling reading and of course we use them at Nottingham. Internally, we compare ourselves with our national and international competitors in almost every area of university life -- tuition fee levels, teaching quality assessment outcomes, research assessment outcomes, even down to the prices we charge students for their accommodation. We are pleased when we are in the top five or top ten of a league table. Our aim is always to appear in the top groupings and of course we publicize these achievements.

    But performance indicators and league tables are not the full story. Universities must respond to the new market economies and use contemporary devices to optimize their performance. But they must not be side-tracked into concentrating on these activities. The fundamentals remain the same. Undertaking fundamental new research and teaching the brightest of the new generation are our priorities. Universities must not lose themselves in the minutiae of the drive for competitive success. They must maintain the spirit that makes them great -- their values of academic excellence, world-leading research, and a life-enriching experience for all those who study with us.

    (china.org.cn, July 30, 2002)

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