Schwartz tells universities to ‘act like social enterprises’

Institutions must fulfil their historic mission of developing student potential, says former vice-chancellor

July 11, 2013

Universities should not seek to emulate business but should focus on their historic mission of developing student potential, a former vice-chancellor has said.

Speaking at the Higher Education Academy’s annual conference at the University of Warwick, Steven Schwartz, a former vice-chancellor at Brunel University and Australia’s Murdoch and Macquarie universities, said that too many institutions were overly focused on generating new income streams by capitalising on intellectual property rights.

Instead, he said, they should invest in the ideas of students and staff, who may reward them if spin-out businesses are successful.

“Universities are not businesses,” said Professor Schwartz, currently executive director of the Australian Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, on 4 July, adding: “They must be businesslike, but they are social enterprises and should act like social enterprises.”

Professor Schwartz said the example of Stanford graduates William Hewlett and David Packard, who started their electronics firm Hewlett-Packard in the 1930s with a $538 (£360) start-up investment from their university, was still a useful model for universities to follow.

“What Stanford says is, ‘Go out and get rich but remember us fondly’,” he said. “It does not try to appropriate its academics’ intellectual property.”

Professor Schwartz called on universities to “make graduates partners when they come up with good ideas”, both in terms of spin-out businesses and improvements to curricula and learning methods.

He also called on higher education to embrace low-cost online courses, saying that the emergence of massive open online courses was the first time that democratisation had come to higher education.

He argued that Moocs were the latest embodiment of the ideals of higher education articulated in Cardinal Newman’s 1852 book The Idea of a University.

“The university is not a set of buildings, research labs or lecturers,” he said. “It is an idea that [through students] we will make the world a better place.”

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