Friday, November 23, 2012

Professional Translation of the Core Service Relationship in Higher Education

A Paradigm Shift
This is the sketch of a single dimension of an alternative means of providing higher education and research, distinct from the reigning rubric of institutions (universities or colleges), governments and unions.

This triad of functionaries has enjoyed monopoly tenure since inception.  Absent an alternative paradigm its modern universities and colleges have become curious cultural fixtures routinely mistaken for the civic enterprise they are meant to serve.

The proposed alternative is the professions.  This competitive service paradigm exposes and either compensates or corrects for existing systemic deficiencies.  In doing so it does not advocate modification but a shift.

Discussion Framework
The environmental movement made possible its herculean shift by routing and replacing deep contra cultural themes associated with the environment.  This proposal is similarly situated with respect to higher education and burdened by common stigmata associated with professions.

Acknowledging this the triad is reengineered under the professional service paradigm, providing an account of the competition in vivo. The result can be described as the professional translation of higher education.

The full translation is complex including economic and ethical argument in favour of the shift.  The scope here is moderate, addressing an important aspect of operations, namely the core service relationship between student and academic.

The Academic Profession
The proposal eliminates all service - and so all expense - not directly related to education and research.

The majority of this eliminable activity consists of institutional management and ancillary services such as (but not limited to): Executive Administration; Institutional Analysis and Planning; Deans; Recreation, Residence, Health and Food Services; Sports Teams; and Alumni Foundation Offices.

Professional practice management dictates what, if any, ancillary services are offered and renders institutional management moot.

As such, professional academics fully define the conditions under which they provide service, including (but not limited to): course offerings and schedules; quantity and quality of students; fees; practice constitution from solo to multi-national and from home to penthouse office; quality and quantity of support staff, facilities and equipment; and research/publication output.

The scope of such professional prerogative atomizes authority over nearly every aspect of higher education operations, distributing it across a professional body of expert academic labour, striking a healthy equilibrium among variance, responsiveness, and access in higher education administered and managed by the immediate service providers.

This is in stark contrast to the union represented employment and expensive mass education replicated across triad institutions whose service: suffers from administrative bloat and lag; is institution centered; exploits labour; fragments education and research relationships; is of questionable quality; limits employment opportunities; is susceptible to the vicissitudes of macroeconomics and public policy; is slow to respond to the market; stunts innovation; and is far too expensive to be adopted in developing regions of the world.

At either the practice or society level the professional paradigm is fundamentally less institution centered yet a suitable steward.  It is more responsive on every metric from economic to innovation and capable of taking on any size required by the market without resorting to mass education.  It is more efficient and offers a better quality service at a better price without exploitation and so presents a good candidate for the higher education paradigm of developing regions.

The balance of service forms the core of the higher education mandate and consists of activity associated with admissions, academics, research, publication, professional development and community service.  The professional character of these functions is a consequence of adopting and adapting select best practices and infrastructure of the reigning paradigm and its predecessors.

In altered circumstances where service is appropriately parsed to core requirements and then parcelled to the basic service units, higher education is transformed.

This selective elimination and extension describes a strong push from the shift.  For instance, the apparent need for institutions is lost in translation, reducing universities and colleges to enterprise electives.  At the same time existing institutional infrastructure and resources are a publicly funded interest and so ultimately subject to state allocation.  A paradigm shift of this order potentially places these assets at the disposal of the (new) academic profession, with selection instructed by professional prerogative, market and public policy vectors.

The Professional Academic Service Relationship: Admission and Registration
The functions of admission and registration are clear examples of translation and transformation.

Consistent with existing professions, pursuit of a program of study within an academic profession is centered on the consumer and service provider.  This is so even in those cases where professional academic “departments,” “colleges” or “universities” are the elected form of practice constitution.  The individual practitioner is the basic service unit and where they operate in such partnership, these professional institutions of higher education would have little resemblance to those of the triad.

For instance, the familiar notions of “admission to university” or “registering for courses” do not apply.  Under the professional paradigm, admissions and registration present more convergent, information rich activities conducted directly and with effective intimacy between the student and the academic.  The process sketches like this:

1) Determine the requirements for a program of study by consulting the “Professional Society of Academics Calendar;”
2) Identify those academics that can provide the required services by perusing the society membership;
3) Consult select professionals directly to determine the mutual suitability of individual service relationships;
4) Strike service relationships by way of contract and payment in those cases where the terms are mutually satisfactory; and
5) Execute service contracts according to terms.

This is the process undertaken when the expertise of professionals is sought.  It is direct, informative and so invaluable to a mutually satisfactory service relationship.  This sort of dynamic is important to the student but under the professional paradigm it is also valuable to the academic, as it directly impacts the health of a practice, including income and career advancement.  Such effects inspire competence and commitment in the parties, with a convergence of self-interest in a satisfactory outcome encouraged by a proper appreciation of their relationship responsibilities.  This is a designed, systemic and fundamental shift in the higher education service relationship.

As an immediate consequence of its finance and engendered model of mass education, triad admissions and registration are by contrast institutional processes characteristically disjunctive, stochastic, and information impoverished.  These processes insulate student from academic, limiting exploration of compatibility or the possibility of modification and specialization in the service.

At the same time universities and colleges offer token measures of the sort of professional service dynamic envisioned in the shift.  Consider the directed reading course.

There are excellent pedagogic and social reasons to encourage the professional brand of access to the expertise of academics that can be found in such courses, where content, scheduling and evaluation details are arrived at by some degree of negotiation between academic and student.  These courses offer the opportunity for the parties to engage material either not contained in the fixed course offerings or at a level of sophistication not facilitated by the institution program of study and mass education format.

This sort of relevant participation is central to the professional alternative.  At the same time, not only is the triad systemically designed to obstruct such participatory education with its impoverished attempt to successfully pair academics with mass numbers of undergraduate students, by not compensating academics for reading course labour and limiting the number of such courses that can count toward credentials, it fails to encourage use of its own modest attempt at participation and so fails to improve the quality of education.

By not encouraging the directed reading course, some of the more promising talent in any field is lost or underdeveloped.  What is compensated for under the existing system is the enrolment (and perhaps graduation) of large numbers of students – with the discovery and nurturing of individual talent, ability, or potential contribution left to pro bono effort.  And this is how it must be under the triad.

This clearly violates the explicit mandate of these institutions.

I have presented a broad stroke of one aspect of one dimension of a paradigm shift in higher education.  Consider it an intellectual amusement.  Consider it a social movement.  But I encourage you to consider it.

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