Dominant Trends In International Higher Education: Implications For Strategic Management In Universities

Abstract

Today, higher education managers operate in complex social and organizational settings, in fast-changing contexts and circumstances. Globalization and related issues to a big extent influence tertiary educational policy and planning. The rapidly growing worldwide education market and mobility of talents pose new challenges on modern universities in terms of attracting international students, improving their ranking and increasing their competitiveness. The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of the official documents on the main issues associated with recent trends and developments in global higher education. These documents focus on the changing role of higher education in the modern knowledge-based society. Although not a full list, these documents offer knowledge of the complex forces shaping international higher education, and understanding of the factors that may follow predictable patterns and have a potentially persistent influence on the field. The analysis conducted in the paper has allowed the author to identify a few dominant trends (driving forces) that should be in the focus of the university policy-makers responsible for creating a comprehensive strategy of the university aimed at increasing its international competitiveness.

Keywords: Higher educationeducational policy and planningstrategic objectives

Introduction

Nowadays, the expansion of tertiary education on a global scale is remarkable (Huisman, Santiago, Högselius, Lemaitre & Thorn, 2007). There are a big number of incentives for people to attend higher education in the agenda of higher education massification (Sarrico, 2017). Thus, modern education managers operate in complex social and organizational settings, in fast-changing contexts and circumstances. Globalization and related issues to a big extent influence tertiary educational policy and planning. The rapidly growing worldwide education market and mobility of talents pose new challenges on contemporary universities in terms of attracting international students, improving their ranking and increasing their competitiveness. This is closely associated with the process of modernisation of higher education and enhancing its quality (Report to the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Europe’s Higher Education Institutions, 2013; Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe, 2014; Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe 2017; Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, 2005; Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, 2009; Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European Higher Education Area, 2015),

The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of the official OECD and EU documents on the main issues associated with recent developments in global higher education. These documents focus on the changing role of higher education in the modern knowledge-based society. In the paper, the author also uses theoretical literature in the field of educational and strategic management.

The analysis conducted in the paper has allowed the author to identify a few dominant trends (driving forces/forces of change) that should be in the focus of the university policy-makers responsible for creating a comprehensive strategy of the university aimed at increasing its international competitiveness.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

According to White (2004), there exist many different ways of interpreting what the term “strategy” implies. In general, strategy can be defined as a long-term plan designed to specifically achieve a goal (goals), as differentiated from tactics (David, 2011). These goals include long-term performance goals (Thompson & Strickland, 2003; Koontz & Weihrich, 2010). The supporting objectives are stated in the “hierarchical” manner reflecting the anticipated result of the prearranged activities (Alkhafaji, 2003). According to Nag, Hambrick, & Chen, (2007), strategic management is concerned with some evolving initiatives taken by managers that include the best use of internal resources for enhancing the performance of organizations in the external environment.

Strategy is concerned with strategic planning (Nag, 2011); so strategy development is linked with planning (White, 2004). Strategic management involves making important (strategic) decisions (Frynas & Mellahi, 2011). Strategic management is associated with creating a “more proactive management posture” for making “reactive and defensive” decisions (Ike, 2017). Thus, strategy-making is regarded as a planning process, which in turn, is viewed as integrated decision-making (Mintzberg, 1994). As managers don’t make strategic decisions in a “competitive vacuum”, they have to develop strategies that would allow them gaining a sustained competitive advantage in the modern turbulent environment (Hill et al., 2016). Strategic planning provides the framework for all decisions to be made (Nag, 2011). Strategic management and strategic planning are crucial for the success of contemporary organizations, intuitive-anticipatory planning and formal systematic planning both being important integrated processes (Steiner, 2010). In planning, management needs trustworthy and applicable information about the organization’s internal and external environment (Alkhafaji, 2003). So the strategic process includes the analysis and use of various internal and external factors, as well as a qualitative combination of opinions and views for developing successful strategies (David, 2011).

Since contemporary universities, being complex and big organizations, operate in highly competitive settings, and the pressure on resources is strong, the importance of effective planning and management of universities is increasing (Taylor & Miroiu, 2002). The need for exploring the future and encouraging broad discussion to guide educational policy and decision-making has become critical for higher education managers (Mahshi, 2013). Management of an educational organization, being aimed at its improvement, is carried out in a strategic planning framework (Fiddler, 2002). Strategic management of a present university is closely linked with the strategic planning process in the context of accomplishing competitive advantage in the global education market (Stukalina, 2017). Different industries (areas) are characterized by different competitive environments; investigating the external and internal environment and selecting suitable strategies are the main components of strategy formulation (Hill, Schilling & Jones, 2016). Management of an academia takes place in a “specific social, economic and educational context”, which should be taken into consideration for handling fast and multiple changes that characterizes modern society; consequently, a proactive approach linked with the longer-term perspective and regular scanning of the external environment is especially important for strategic management in education (Bush & Coleman, 2000).

Strategy is holistic and interactive (White, 2004), so the complex pattern of various contributing influences forms determines the decisions made by education managers (Stukalina, 2013). Reacting to the emerging challenges that are associated with the highly competitive international education market, university managers should re-evaluate their previous strategies by lining up with both present-day and future realities (Stukalina, 2017). Each decision made by managers involves considering the future (Mintzberg, 1994; White, 2004). As said by Hill et al. (2016), managers plan not only within the context of the current competitive environment, but within the context of the future competitive environment. From the holistic point of view, educational managers must analyse several perspectives in the context of supporting continuous quality improvement (Stukalina, 2010). As the environmental situation of a university reflects both the external environment of competitors and economic conditions and the internal environment, the strategic plans based on the environmental analysis reflects the internal view of the university in its approach and its priorities (Hinton, 2012).

Organizations scan their environment for identifying the external forces of change in order to generate operational responses for improving their position in the future (Choo, 2001). Information gathered by means of the environmental scan gives education managers a common understanding of main trends (driving forces) for the future, so that they would be able to create a vision and broad strategic goals integrated in their strategy; this way, the environmental scan sets the basis for the discussions about the organizational future (Hinton, 2012). The most dominant forces, having the major impact on the internal organizational environment, will outline the organizational strategy; their analysis includes the following steps: identifying them and then measuring the effect they may have on the corresponding area (Thompson & Strickland, 2003). Managers should also categorize these driving forces as being either major or minor determinants (ibid.).

In view of the above, “detecting”, describing and assessing the main dominant trends (forces of change) in the field of higher education would be a very important analytical task of university policy-makers responsible for a comprehensive strategy development and implementation in terms of enhancing the university’s international competitiveness.

Research Method

This paper is based on secondary sources of research used to facilitate the discussion of the given topic. In the paper, the analysis of theoretical literature in the field of both strategic educational and management is used. In the paper, a review of the official OECD and EU documents on the main issues associated with recent developments in global higher education is also provided.

The author has selected the most significant documents related to the topic under discussion. Although not a full list, these documents offer knowledge of the complex forces shaping international higher education, and understanding of the factors that may follow predictable patterns and have a potentially persistent influence on the field. The review of some important documents identifying major trends in international higher education also aims at suggesting new research directions in the area of higher education management in the context of creating a competitive strategy of a contemporary university.

Findings

The documents analysed in this section provide an overview of the main changes, challenges and developments in higher education worldwide and within the European Higher Education Area. They identify a few essential trends having an impact on how higher education is perceived and delivered now and in the years ahead. Describing the context, in which strategic decisions in a modern university are made, these documents can be used for guiding and supporting education policy-makers in developing competitive strategies, management plans, and relevant institutional practices and procedures.

Main developments in modern global higher education: implications for strategic management in universities

The documents analysed in this sub-section provide an overview of main developments in higher education worldwide. In Table 1 , the main identified trends are described, as well as the related implications for university management in the agenda of developing a competitive strategy.

Table 1 -
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Major developments in the European Higher Education Area: implications for strategic management in European universities

The documents analysed in this sub-section provide an overview of major trends in European higher education. In Table 2 , the main identified developments are described, as well as the associated implications for strategic management in European universities.

Table 2 -
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As one can see from Tables 1 and 2 , strategic implications for the management of higher education institutions can be interpreted as consequences arising from dealing with the impact of various forces of change that can influence a contemporary university from different aspects. The identified developments call for adequate responses to be reflected in relevant strategies and policies in the higher education area in Europe and worldwide. For example, the EU has a fruitful record of supporting higher education through policy cooperation and funding programmes (COM (2017) 247 final (2017).

Conclusion and Discussions

The analysis of theoretical sources in the field educational management, as well as official documents on the current and future developments in higher education has enabled the author to draw the following conclusions.

Through the examination of the above sources a few long-term trends (driving forces), creating major risks and opportunities for education managers, who are responsible for developing competitive strategies of a modern university, have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Internationalization of higher education

  • Diversification of higher education

  • Massification of higher education

  • Quality assurance in higher education (of vital importance for the Bologna process participants).

Each of the above trends that are driven, among other things, by globalisation and intensified competition in the international education market requires universities respond to the challenges posed on them in due time, careful planning and control being performed at all levels of an educational organization. They should be in the centre of the institutional policy making process; they must be reflected in the institutional comprehensive strategy, aimed at increasing the university’s international competitiveness. The developments trends in higher education cause changes in policy priorities. The focus on the expansion of higher education is now being accompanied and even replaced by an increasing “concern for the quality of the entire educational process and for the control of its results”, the main concern of education managers being defining applicable strategies for change (Mahshi, 2013).

In the complicated contexts, where various strategic goals may be followed, multiple strategies can be created in universities within different “orders” – either aimed at developing their particular strengths (for example, a specialty or niche), or improving their national or international ranking (Bleiklie, 2004). As higher education is concerned with the changes linked to globalisation, education and research remain to be central elements in the process of creating the global environment, because they are vital for “sustaining complex communities” (Higher Education to 2030: Volume 2, 2009). So, in general, university-specific strategies rest on the following domains of a modern university: education, research, and the involved staff, services and facilities (Stukalina, 2014). In Table 3 , some strategies to be formulated with regard to the identified development trends in higher education are desribed. Generally, all these strategies are supposed to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the knowledge-based society at the present point in time.

Table 3 -
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All-in-all, the findings presented in this paper indicate that the higher education field is now undergoing significant changes. In the context of massive expansion, wider participation, internationalisation, and more diverse profiles of institutions, their programmes and students, there is a) a high demand for new approaches to governance with growing emphasis on performance, quality and accountability; b) new modes of financing (Tremblay, Lalancette, & Roseveare, 2012).

This makes university policy-makers respond proactively to the new challenges in their efforts to create competitive strategies aimed at accomplishing academic and research excellence. The proactive response may include (among other things) the following:

  • Scanning the external environment to identify the driving forces of change

  • Transforming any challenge into a constructive action and a competitive advantage

  • Develop and implement multiple strategies focused on quality education

  • Establish a consistent strategic planning, implementation and monitoring system

  • Establish a model of organizational change and state the responsibilities of change managers.

The above activities integrated in the overall university’s strategy would result in creating “inclusive and connected higher education systems” (COM(2017) 247 final, 2017), which are properly managed and coordinated through strategic planning mechanisms, strategic planning being an essential tool for handling organizational change.

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Stukalina*, Y. (2019). Dominant Trends In International Higher Education: Implications For Strategic Management In Universities. In M. Özşahin, & T. Hıdırlar (Eds.), New Challenges in Leadership and Technology Management, vol 54. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 150-159). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.01.02.13