Friday, April 27, 2012

Building University Research Capacity

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where Professor George Walker, is talking on "Tactics for Research Capacity Building", based on his experience at Cleveland State University and Florida International University. Yesterday he talked on "Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate-inspired strategies for program evaluation and improvement: focus on student learning outcomes". Today's is his last talk in Canberra, before returning to the USA.

Professor Walker discussed his experience in improving the quality and productivity of research programs at US universities. The use of the term "productivity" got my attention , as I am looking at applying on-line pedagogy to research supervision. Also the use of the word "tactical" was interesting.

Professor Walker advocated universities having a strategic plan for research. He suggested that building capably involved selecting good staff, concentrating on interdisciplinary projects crossing the usual boundaries and involved internationally. Existing staff may resist such initiatives and feel left behind, unless there are explicit strategies to have them involved.

Professor Walker advocated explicit performance measures for research and teaching negotiated with each faculty member. He acknowledged also involving unions and suggested that many assumed impediments to such metrics do not exist. He also discussed how to reallocate university building space by charging academics rent. These are very topical issues in Australia, with universities setting metrics in response to new national standards.

Professor Walker pointed out that there is a subsidy from undergraduate fees to research and graduate education at most US universities. He argued that this will result in more specialized staff at university, with some doing more teaching of undergraduates. I asked the professor why a specialist teaching organization which does not subsidize research would not undercut university, offering cheaper courses. The professor replied that universities promote themselves based on research reputation. So students are prepared to pay more for a prestigious research university, even though the actual teaching is not done by those researchers and is of a lower quality than a specialist teaching organization. This is an effective strategy, but it may not survive increased competition and consumer law.

Professor Walker pointed out that many staff hired by US universities are from other countries, particularly in the technical fields. Nation states still want to have their own universities, but this will become more "complicated" with internationalization.

Professor Walker pointed out the different roles for fully online teaching only universities and traditional institutions. He suggested that they need to be separate and distinct. I am not sure if this is the case and we can have a blend. While traditional universities emphasize their full formal degree choruses. But universites also offer all sorts of other forms of education, including short and vocational courses. There is no reason why a traditional university cannot also offer online courses, without sacrificing reputation or quality.

Professor Walker has co-authored a number of publications on how to reform postgraduate education, including "The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century" (with Chris M. Golde, Laura Jones, Andrea Conklin Bueschel, Pat Hutchings. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008). There is also the Carnegie Foundation Professional Graduate Education website.

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