Cutbacks giving the academy lemons? Make lemonade

UCLA business school dean tells Sarah Cunnane how sector can cope with global retrenchment

July 29, 2010

The dean of a leading US business school has urged the global academy to "make lemonade out of lemons" as it faces up to an age of austerity.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Judy Olian, dean of the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, acknowledged that the recession had forced business schools such as her own to become more self-reliant.

Her comments echoed those of John Hudzik, former vice-president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan State University, who earlier this month said that future funding for global higher education increasingly would come from private sources.

Professor Olian argued that because of the make-up of their student bodies, including executives and other professionals, business schools are uniquely well placed to cope with the current challenges.

She added that as institutions in almost every country strive to bridge the funding gap left by public spending cuts, it is vital that charging students more is not seen as the only option.

However, she said, it was an "unfortunate" truth that one of the "creative solutions" available to institutions seeking to make up the shortfall is raising tuition fees.

In the case of the Anderson School of Management, she said, UCLA "will not compromise excellence, distinctions of what the school is and what our students deserve" by cutting services rather than raising fees.

Last year, the University of California system hiked its fees by an eye-watering 32 per cent, a move initially met with student anger.

However, Professor Olian said that the "market response" to any increase in cost "depends on the excellence" of the service being offered. If its value exceeds the monetary cost, "students view the price increase in terms of the long-term, lifetime return", she argued.

In the case of UCLA, the rise in tuition fees had not deterred applicants, she said, adding that a proportional rise in financial aid for students had helped. "We've increased financial aid and scholarships as we've increased fees. It's not dollar for dollar, but it's certainly in the same proportion."

Other strategies UCLA is pursuing include expanding programmes, pushing for more contributions from alumni and others and looking for efficiency savings.

On the last point, Professor Olian said that her school has fought to keep the things that "directly touched" students, such as faculty and student services.

In spite of the many things institutions can do, she said, the pain inflicted by cuts in public funding is "unavoidable".

She hoped that in the US and elsewhere, the academy will be seen by governments as "a social good" worth protecting.

"In some states ... higher education is seen as the last protected bastion of public funding, (whereas) others have cut in fairly direct ways," she said.

"I do worry about the future of higher education if it is not seen as a public good."

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

Clarification

Times Higher Education are happy to clarify that, while the figure of a 32 per cent tuition fee rise is accurate for the University of California system, the UCLA Anderson School of Management fees rose only by 12.2 per cent for in-state students and 9.3 per cent for out-of-state students during the past year.

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