Heterodox forms of university ownership, governance, financing and organisational structure

In the last 20 years the cost of University education has been escalating, limiting accessibility and making it an expensive investment and a disincentive for families from the middle to lower income bracket.  Even when those students get admitted to a university they are burdened with student loans for years because of the high cost of tuition, board and lodging and other related expenses and they may not find employment immediately.  In some cases they cannot afford to repay the loans which often times would have been secured by their parents’ property.

See Catherine talking about her research and key findings in her PhD project:

The exchange rate fluctuations would undoubtedly affect students from poorer countries studying abroad. For example, according to the Open Doors Report (Fast Fact, 2012) published by the Institute of International Education, there were 764,495 international students enrolled at colleges and universities in the United States in the 2011-2012 academic year, an increase of 5.7% over the previous year, with 62% of these external recruitment originating from Asia; while 63.6% of the primary source of funds of international students were either personal or from family (link). The United Kingdom on the other hand had an international student enrolment of over 480,775 in the 2010-2011 academic years with approximately 27% originating from Asia; and in France there were 288,000 international students during the 2011/2012 school year with 10.3% originating from China (link).

Rising cost
The rising cost of education has been referred to “as an important by-product of broad economic forces that have reshaped the entire economy” (Robert Archibald, David Feldman, 2010).  Universities are no longer seen as institutions providing a primary social and economic need, but mainly as profit making organizations operating in a capitalist society that engage in aggressive marketing campaigns  to achieve their own goals. In the United Kingdom the cost of tuition alone for undergraduate study rose by approximately 300 per cent from a fixed amount of approximately £3,000 per annum in 2004 to £9,000 in 2012 (link), and for international students the tuition ranges from approximately £12,000 to £16,000 per annum (link). 

Research aim
The study is undertaken to address the above problem.  The research aims to explore how universities can be made more accessible through alternative forms of governance models such as Co-operatives.  From personal experience it is anticipated that a co-operative university will seek to provide equal opportunity by placing people and their needs over profits; ensure democratic control; and build socially just local communities through university reform while at the same time provide excellent quality education at affordable prices. 

The researcher builds on work already started in university reform by William Foote, Kathleen King Whyte, Davydd Greenwood, Susan Wright and Rebecca Boden.  She will also undertake to draw on writers such as John Donaldson, Peter Davis and Isao Takamura who have called for the establishment of cooperative management as the philosophy of modern management.

Principal Research Question
How might heterodox university forms, as distinct from the currently dominant orthodox models of university ownership/control, governance, financing and organisation, contribute to educational and thereby wider socially, economically and culturally beneficial outcomes?

Subsidiary Questions

  1. What are the current forms of university ownership, governance, financing and organisational structure in the UK and Australia and to what extent do these reflect global trends?
  2. What are the consequences of these regimes for educational outcomes and the wider social context in terms of access, fees, pedagogy and curriculum design?
  3. What alternative models of ownership, governance, financing and organisational structure might be constituted into new university forms and how might these enhance educational, social, economic and cultural outcomes of higher education?

The concept of heterodox university governance model as exist in Spain and California is a fairly new initiative that will be researched for possible adaptation by different countries as an alternative to the capitalist-based university system that currently exists.  Thus an interpretivist paradigm was adopted in conducting this research.  The researcher has reviewed extant literature to determine the relevance of the new governance model and lessons learnt, and have conducted case studies of four pro-democratic higher education institutions in order to increase the scope and depth of the study and to assist in developing a framework of what the heterodox university model will look like. 

A total of fifty interviews were also conducted with government officials in the UK and Australia, senior managers of the alternative higher education institutions visited as well as with academic and administrative staff to understand the internal constitution of these institutions as it relates to ownership/control, governance, financing and organisational structure.  Four focus group meetings were also undertaken with students within the alternative models to gain an in-depth understanding of their pedagogical and learning experiences.

Contribution to knowledge
Reforms in higher education have been written about extensively in literature.  A number of writers have addressed the implications of these reforms on them as academics and scholars.  However there is very little literature (Burke, 2013; Williams, 2013) on the implications of higher education reform on students and their outcomes.  In fact, there is a dearth of empirical research on the university types that have emerged over the years and the corresponding link to student outcomes in terms of access, cost, pedagogy and curriculum.  This study is an attempt to fill that gap.  This work will synthesise knowledge of current dominant forms of university organisation in terms of ownership/control, financing, governance and organisational structures and how this impacts upon students educational outcomes.  More substantively, this work will seek out understandings of alternative organisational forms based on notions of social economy, and explore how they might be deployed in the context of universities to achieve different educational outcomes. These will be developed into a suite of ‘resources of hope’ which could be drawn upon in reforming universities to achieve differently constituted educational outcomes to the benefit of students and staff and for wider social, economic and cultural benefit.

It is hoped that the current research will have practical significance for education policy in the UK and Australia as well as globally since the phenomenon in higher education has become a global trend (Wang, 2010); and that the research will have the potential for adaptation and adoption by countries/regions as a viable option for a heterodox university model.