To soar like Airbus, craft a high-flying network

Universities should emulate the aircraft manufacturer Airbus in forming alliances in which partner institutions provide a single specialised element of a student's education rather than trying to offer a complete academic experience in one place.

November 1, 2012

That is the view of Arnoud de Meyer, president of Singapore Management University, who told the Reinventing Higher Education conference at IE University's business school in Madrid on 22 October that higher education institutions needed to radically alter how they educate their students.

Professor de Meyer, former director of Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, said that universities needed to operate in international networks to provide an outstanding all-round academic experience for students.

That was, he said, because institutions could not be expected to be outstanding in all respects but could provide a part of the overall package that students require.

Comparing these networks to the supply chain of Airbus, in which complete sections of aeroplanes are manufactured in factories across Europe before being brought together for final assembly near Toulouse, Professor de Meyer said that a university "needs to offer something very important in that network that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

"Why would we all want to do the same courses? You should put yourself in a network with like-minded institutions and see where you can work with other institutions to deliver something in common."

Other alternatives to the "Airbus model" included the "Harvard model", in which international experts from across the world are housed in one campus, and the "University of Chicago model", in which campuses are established across the world, Professor de Meyer said.

But these models had major flaws, he argued, such as finding sufficient funds to attract the world's top talent or maintaining a consistent brand for all branch campuses.

"There is always an issue with the second campus [in] how to brand it without it seeming like a second-tier campus," Professor de Meyer observed. "If Cambridge set up a [foreign] campus...they would have a problem branding it."

Branding, he added, "is not about a logo or place - it is how you preserve the value of a second campus".

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