STRATEGIES OF SMALL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITIES: COMPETITIVE OR SURVIVAL?
National Research University Higher School of Economics (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
About this paper:
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:This paper reflects on the outcomes of research activities that intended to explore issues concerning current strategies used by ‘small’ universities of applied sciences in Russia and beyond. The first part of the paper focuses on the complexities of developing and realizing effective strategies in the field of higher education. This discussion raises a variety of issues including universities’ ability to detect and apply the best strategy basing on their achievements and prospects, and the universities’ potential dependency on the national policies, as well as the challenges for those trying to ‘oppose’ the circumstances or the system. Leading on from that, the second part of the paper debates the concept of universities’ freedom in choosing and implementing strategies aiming at their survival or higher competition in the national and international markets.
The problem of small universities’ competitiveness is not novel. A number of studies have highlighted that a whirl of rising costs, increased competition and regulatory uncertainty made small universities particularly vulnerable and fragile. According to Martin and Samels (2014), many colleges and universities of applied sciences worldwide are also buffeted by gainful employment, student and family debt and, quite often, underprepared student populations. In fact, both nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities now face the most daunting challenges ever imposed by federal regulators, state academic licensing agencies and accreditors [Martin, Samels 2014]. Biemiller (2015) and Weisbuch (2015) argue against the current shrinking procedures of small universities in Europe and beyond and underpin the core issues that their decision-makers should pay primary attention to.
As the year of 2016 is coming to an end, Universities’ decision-makers should pay particular attention to setting priorities, aiming for greater efficiency, and managing reasonably the resources they possess.
As a basis for further research, the authors have identified the following core issues that can be developed as major trajectories for small universities’ competitive strategies – finance, sustainability, safety, environmental health, distance learning, new technologies, community outreach, and maintenance.
The interim conclusion to the study is that the complexities of small universities’ competition cannot be effectively addressed without introducing both attitudinal and procedural changes at every level – top management, executives (including academics), employers and, undoubtedly students. These include changes required of every stakeholder – University decision-makers, inter-organisational educational bodies, academic and support staff, reliable and potential employers, students and their parents. The implications for small universities of applied sciences are that elements of effective strategies may not be immediately apparent. A recognition of the need for changes should be a strategic imperative to be embedded in curriculum development, teaching strategies and institutional purpose.
The greatest challenge is the problem of maintaining control over the various issues involved in the contemporary universities’ activities influenced largely by their status and position of ‘small’ universities of applied sciences. One possible solution for small universities’ increased competition would be to become more consumer-oriented by taking correct strategic decisions about which markets to target and developing their strategies according to the markets’ specificities under the aegis of finding a proper match between students and employers. This consumer-market orientation allows small universities to develop ‘a golden triangle’ of three main stakeholders – students, employers, and themselves.
Yet, another solution or sometimes the only ‘forced’ escape is the strategy of amalgamation or merger with a larger and stronger university, by which small universities aspire to achieve a higher level of competition in the domestic and international markets. Whilst this strategy often makes sense from a rational point of view, it might defeat the objective of fair competition, with a bunch of big universities dividing the market of higher education and agreeing on pricing and other policies, thus depriving both students and employers as major stakeholders and end-consumers of their right to choose and influence the competition.
From the undertaken conversations with students, academics and administrators of some small universities in the three countries it has become evident that the very nature of universities’ competition is bound today by national and regional policies often dictated by some ‘higher’ neoliberal principles and ideas than fair competition and free market rules.
Keywords: ‘small’ universities; universities of applied sciences; survival strategies; competitive strategies; market tools.