Resilience rankings, a new lens?
Written by Anand Kulkarni
Written by Anand Kulkarni
The higher education sector has, and continues to face unprecedented disruption, through the impact of COVID-19. The international outlook is highly uncertain and turbulent, flowing through to the domestic scene.
Although not without controversy, university rankings are a window to the world, highlighting competitive advantages and disadvantages for institutions. At present, and going forward, there will be a premium on institutional resilience. To that end, I wrote an article for the University World News (UWN) in December 2020 on the need for resilience rankings. This blog article is an abbreviation of the UWN piece.
While the pandemic could be considered a once in a lifetime event, its impact is so pervasive and long term. Moreover, variants of COVID-19 are appearing. In addition, disruption seems to be the ‘new normal’, likely traversing massive technological change, rapid economic structural change, and climate crises.
With these conditions in mind, resilience rankings could be based on the capacity of institutions to innovate, diversify, act nimbly, continue to provide value for money, manage risk effectively, strive for financial sustainability, and stay true to their missions and core purpose.
One of the cornerstones of resilience is, in our view, the ability to diversify revenue sources as a prime vehicle for reducing and managing risk. A possible measure of this is a share of income that a university derives from a particular source (e.g. specific student cohort, specific market, specific research stream). The more specific the source, the less diverse and arguably less resilient. The amount of financial reserves that a university holds could be a complementary measure. Yet another approach could measure the degree of ‘bounce back’, or the extent to which Institutions are able to financially recover from a serious, large-scale external event(s). Naturally, this bounce-back would need to be considered over multiple time horizons.
The pandemic has demonstrated that there are new opportunities for growth, including reformed business models and organisational change. Possibilities here include the extent of shift from face-to-face learning to online, virtual student placements, and qualitative statements about new or improved organisational practices and growth options that an institution has implemented.
The ability to effectively manage risk is a cornerstone of managing change. The ability to compare the risk parameters of different organisations is naturally very context-specific, however, related in large measure to a university’s underlying competitive position. Some assessment of an institution’s risk profile on a traffic light basis, with relative weights and judgements attached to cover risk parameters, such as finance, reputation (drawing on existing academic reputation surveys, for example), could be possible as another guide to resilience.
Values maintenance is an important component of a resilient institution. Values maintenance is the extent to which an institution holds firm to its underlying mission and vision, even in the face of disruption. This very subjective criteria can be measured qualitatively by (a) the presence of a mission/vision statement in the first instance, and (b) the progress against targets in the mission/vision.
Value or value for money criteria from a student perspective, reflecting the ability of institutions to continue to provide quality education even in the face of disruption, could be addressed in a number of ways:
There is now a treasure trove of social media data and analytics that can be mined to measure and assess student sentiment.
Most Institutions now embrace the ‘third mission’ to promote community engagement and local agency. Undoubtedly difficult to measure, one potential technique could be through a community-based survey instrument (naturally, what constitutes a community would need to be sorted out).
Of course, not for a second should the complexity of such an exercise be underestimated in terms of data availability and methodological considerations.
A number of the criteria and metrics proposed do lend themselves to collaboration, especially in relation to innovation, new business, and organisational models. It is important to recognise that at times of severe disruption, while institutions may be in competition, there could be a prevailing sense of ‘we are all in it together’. At the very least, new frames of reference facilitate learning from each other, and develop enhanced communities of practice.
Anand Kulkarni. The views expressed here are the author’s views.
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