The future? Wish upon a Starbucks

A panel discussion at LSE offered some surprising insights into the university sector. John Gill reports

March 5, 2009

Universities should emulate US coffee chain Starbucks to keep students happy, a vice-chancellor has said.

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, made the suggestion as she discussed how institutions could respond to students' changing attitudes to university.

"Social life is shifting away from the campus; they are in university to study and improve their prospects," she said.

"We have to make sure that they can do the same things that they can do in Starbucks; they can switch on their machines and have coffee at the same time."

Professor Beer's comments are quoted in a report on the sector's "achievements, challenges and prospects", published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

She was speaking at an event at the London School of Economics alongside David Eastwood, chief executive of Hefce, Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of the Wellcome Trust, and Ed Smith, chairman of Hefce's Governance and Management Strategic Advisory Committee.

During a wide-ranging discussion, Mr Smith, formerly a senior partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, warned that universities were "not what I would call 'agile' in the private-sector sense of the word".

To remedy this, they would have to develop a greater focus on "speed, changing operating models, brand, mission and reputation".

Sir Mark added: "Many (universities don't have) modern models of governance... they have got to improve their executive and governance functions."

Professor Eastwood painted a picture of higher education as "too hermetic, too self-referential".

"It is unwilling to partner with Government and policymakers in a rich way, and there is a default position that we know our business best. Do you think that's right?" he asked.

The panel also raised concerns about the UK's research and development, with Sir Mark warning that "the status quo is not going to deliver the science of the future".

Finally, the group touched on the threats and opportunities presented by the recession.

Mr Smith refused to be too downbeat: "This is a global economic recession, but it is not the end of the planet. Don't (be) alarmed by it - take action."

Professor Eastwood agreed, suggesting that institutions should put their autonomy to good use to find a way through the crisis.

He said: "What we will see is some institutions that put themselves in a position to thrive when the recovery comes, and others that find themselves quite challenged."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

Door peephole painted as bomb ready to explode

It’s time to use technology to detect potential threats and worry less about outdated ideas of privacy, says Ron Iphofen