War of ideas

April 14, 2000

We are in the middle of a dramatic change in the competitive landscape for universities and colleges ("US colleges tap corporate field", THES, March 31).

The survey of US corporate universities quoted is indicative of a trend observable for 20 years or more. Universities and colleges have been working with companies to deliver customised learning for many years. My own institution can trace the first such activity back to 1968. The success of Warwick Manufacturing Group is something from which many of us can learn.

The challenge is in coming to terms with these shifts. Not least is that of speed and value. More and more the demand is to offer value added through learning and to be able to do so quickly.

Traditional models of academic governance and methods do not make that easy. We must invest in learning technology and in marketing. But we must also invest in our people. Whether we like it or not, part of the differentiation corporate universities seek relates to "ideas". They are engaged in a war for talent. Increasingly we are engaged in a war of ideas. Universities, colleges, business schools and other providers will compete for the intellectual high ground. Any can buy into the technology and marketing skills - but ideas require space to grow.

Does this mean research and scholarship? Well yes, but the traditional approaches are not the whole story. It is also about providing your best people with the space, challenge and support to promote those ideas.

This will test many institutions to the core. I see no reason to suppose that the winners will be those institutions winning the most in research funding, but rather those closest to the real world issues in the fields which they seek to serve - of commerce, health care, government, urban planning, biotechnology and so on. We have much to gain by working in partnerships.

Colin A. Carnall. Director of Henley executive development. Henley Management College.

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