Eyes, ears and advice for hire

August 14, 1998

The Commonwealth Higher Education Management Service aims to help universities. John Fielden explains

In the alphabet soup of agencies undertaking comparative research in higher education a new acronym has emerged in recent years - CHEMS - the Commonwealth Higher Education Management Service. It was established in November 1993 with two core functions: providing consultancy services to universities and governments on all aspects of university management and undertaking comparative studies and research on good management practice.

For its first three years CHEMS was supported with a grant from the Commonwealth Secretariat that enabled it to launch its publications and surveys as well as providing services to universities in developing countries. After the grant came to an end in 1996 an evaluation of CHEMS' performance was done by Geraldine Kenney-Wallace (now the vice-chancellor of the British Aerospace Virtual University). Her report was extremely complimentary and as a result the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation agreed to provide support for a further three years - linked this time to surveys and publications which would help developing country institutions. CFTC's backing has been matched by the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

CHEMS has been led since 1993 by John Fielden, formerly a senior partner in the management consultancy firm of KPMG. The staff complement has expanded since that date and now comprises five people, two of whom, David Price and Svava Bjarnason have Australian and Canadian nationality respectively. CHEMS also has eyes and ears positioned Commonwealth-wide, as four former vice-chancellors act as CHEMS representatives in Australia, Canada, Kenya and Malaysia. They help respond to consultancy requests and provide a flow of information about developments in higher education in their regions.

CHEMS management consultancy activities are very varied. Consider the following range: * advising the South African equivalent of the CVCP on its future role and structure in the "new" South Africa * helping an Australian vice-chancellor decide on his senior staffing structure and the role of his pro vice-chancellors * reviewing the performance of a university in Southern Africa with a six-person team drawn from five Commonwealth states * helping the World Bank design the management element of a higher education reform programme * evaluating the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning for the Higher Education Funding Council for England * advising the embryo ministry of higher education and three leading universities in Palestine on strategic planning In the past four and a half years CHEMS has undertaken almost 50 consultancy projects in 12 countries, using a wide range of specialist consultants from its data base of almost 400, drawn from all parts of the Commonwealth.

It is CHEMS's second field of activity which has shown the most dramatic change in the last year due to the funding from CFTC and ACU and the very hard work of CHEMS researchers. In the year to June 1998 CHEMS has completed 14 comparative research papers and surveys under the CFTC programme. In the year just beginning another 15 will appear. Almost every publication or survey CHEMS produces can be drawn down free from its web site:http://www.acu.acu.uk/chems/chems.htm

The research and survey work so far has several strands: Studies of good practice for managers. Recent work in this area includes: * a survey of ways in which universities across the Commonwealth collaborate in 16 different administrative areas * introducing management information systems in universities, a practical how to do it guide for managers * a survey of current practice in benchmarking in university management in Canada, Australia, Germany, the US and the UK * a survey of outsourcing practice in ten Commonwealth countries International surveys which CHEMS places on the Web and regularly updates are as follows: * academic pay and conditions of service in Commonwealth countries. A 1997 survey of 32 institutions in seven countries is being updated * tuition fees charged to international students. The 1997 survey covered all the fees charged by all universities in Australia, Canada, UK and a sample in South Africa, India, Malaysia. In the 1998 survey several more countries will be included * training providers of courses on university management. This survey lists full details of over 120 courses for university managers in the US, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, Latin America, South Africa, Australia and the UK * gender analysis of academic staff in the Commonwealth. This report (due to appear) analyses the gender of over 110,000 academics in all the universities of the Commonwealth and shows the female proportions by country, job grade and selected disciplines * access to email and the Internet in developing Commonwealth countries. This survey, based on April 1998 data, (due to appear) will show the extent of email and web access in developing nations.

CHEMS papers are shorter (often published in the ACU's bulletin, ABCD) and relate to current topics in university management. Examples include: * a new look at recent research on the savings which are claimed to result from mergers * a short summary of the publicly available data on staff student ratios in selected Commonwealth countries by subject, with strong health warnings * A review of the composition of university councils in five Commonwealth countries.

A new series of country-based higher education profiles is about to be launched. It aims to give university managers comparative information about higher education systems.

The profile for Australia is already available and ones for Canada, South Africa and Ghana will appear shortly.

CHEMS's objective in 1993 was to establish itself as one of the leading providers of consultancy services to universities. It is well on the way to this target and has also gained a reputation for the breadth and relevance of its comparative research for university managers.

John Fielden is director of CHEMS.

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