Beyond rhetoric. Some obstacles for a responsible glocal university

Miclea, Mircea, UNESCO Chair, BBU, Romania

Each university aspires to become glocal. In this article, Mircea Miclea claims that this identity change occurs rather in rhetoric than in actual practices. So, in order to create a new, glocal, identity, higher education institutions should overcome several obstacles, which he mentions here.

 Beyond rhetoric. Some obstacles for a responsible glocal university

Last decades, higher education institutions have increasingly become under public scrutiny. Several factors contributed to this situation: the accelerated massification of the universities, an increased need for highly qualified workforce required by our postmodern economy and societal expectations concerning active involvement of universities in promoting a sustainable development, being the most salient. The general concern refers to the increased sensitivity a higher education institution (HEI) should manifest to its proximal (local) and distal (global) environment.

No doubt, all relevant stakeholders involved in higher education, from faculties and students to governmental authorities or main employers have expressed vocally their strong support for a socially engaged university as a local and global problem solver. Each university aspires to become glocal. The problem is whether this new identity could be deeply assumed by the HEI’s or is just a new hype, a kind of wishful thinking of those involved in this endeavor. Relying on a basic situational analysis my claim is that this identity change occurs rather in rhetoric than in actual practices. In order to create a new, glocal, identity, HEI’s should overcome several obstacles, which we shortly mention bellow. 

 Disciplinary dependence

Teaching and research taking place inside universities are still strongly related to specific disciplines, (discipline-dependent) not to the real life problems (problem-dependent), which are, most of the time trans/interdisciplinary. We are much more concern to produce knowledge according to the paradigms from various disciplines than to develop relevant solutions, services or products required by the environment outside the university.

The rate of knowledge-transfer from academic research to applications is extremely low

Each university aspires to become glocal.The rate of knowledge-transfer from academic research to applications is extremely low and our curriculum is so much discipline –dependent that we teach rather what we know than what is needed for the labor market. Our students are just marginally exposed to the world of work. In the best case scenario they are prepared to become good employees, not innovative entrepreneur, capable to live in a world where volatility, not stability is the rule of the game. A switch from academic disciplines to real life problems, in teaching and research is critical if we want a university much more sensitive to the outside environment. Up to now, the academics seem more motivated to defend their disciplinary feuds than to behave as innovative knowledge-workers.   

Traditional reward system 

The entire reward system inside universities is related to one’s personal contribution to the development of a specific discipline. Promotion, prestige or any increase in salary is dependent to ones publications and citation index. There are no (or just marginal) rewards for those contributing to local socio- economic development. If you write a new law of education or develop the next Google but you have no paper published about them you are facing the risk to become a marginal in academic community. There is no penalty for a member of academia who, during his/her entire career did not address any socially relevant problem. Thus, we have plenty of academics whose records are a long list of big contributions to small and irrelevant problems.

We are much more concern to produce knowledge according to the paradigms from various disciplines than to develop relevant solutions, services or products required by the environment outside the university. 

Risk aversive culture

Academic communities are risk averse: they prefer to work inside a specific paradigm than to challenge it, to produce normal science than disruptive science, to have guaranteed research grants but not to be accountable for lack of relevant research results. Usually, they approach only those problems for which they have clear methodologies and tend to ignore relevant problems for which adequate methodology is missing. It is much easier to publish a paper which confirms the existing paradigm than one offering disconfirming evidences; and even if these things happen, it is labeled as anomalous data. Despite the warning of K. Popper, confirmation bias overcomes, by far, disconfirmation or refutation inside scientific communities. The entrepreneurial spirit, so much necessary to deal with the local and global complexities is rather an exception than the core ethos inside academia.

Defensive use of autonomy

University autonomy is extremely valuable for the progress of research and scholarship. But sometime, when confronted with the expectations of businesses and government to be more sensitive to the environment outside the university, to pay attention to employability and economic impact of their research, HEIs invoke academic autonomy to legitimate their unreformed curriculum and irrelevant research. This is a defensive use of autonomy, which in no way contribute to a global and local responsiveness.

Collective decision making organisms

In many cases, collective decision-making organisms, (e.g. National Conference of Rectors) support conservative decisions, acceptable for the majority but disadvantageous for high performers. Performance is sacrificed for consensus, correct decisions for agreeable decisions.

Here is the challenge! When we will see the academics abandoning their religious respect for their academic disciplines and becoming more focused on problems beyond their disciplinary borders, HEI’s reconsidering their traditional reward system, being more risk sensitive, less prone to use autonomy as an alibi for irrelevance of their research and collective decision-making organism promoting performance, not consensus , than we will know that  the time for glocal university has come, not only as a rhetoric but as a reality. 

About the author

Mircea Miclea is the professor and director of The Centre for Applied Cognitive Psychology, at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. He served as the General Chancellor of the university from 2001–2004. In 2001, he was named the UNESCO Chair on Higher Education Management and Governance. In 2006, he was named the President of The Presidential Commission for analysis and elaboration of policies in education and research. 

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