Management Universities: Enhancing Value for Society through Collaboration

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Higher education is provided by a range of institutions, besides the typical research university. What forms of public and private goods do all these institutions produce? Should research and the higher learning produced by universities be treated as a “merit good”? What is the assumed relationship between the private goods and the public good(s) produced for society? Is the conception of public good(s) mainly economic, and is it adequately complemented by social perspectives?

Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Director of Strategic Planning and Adjunct Professor of Law Mr Sriven Naidu posited these and other riveting questions at a public lecture organised by The HEAD Foundation (THF) on 27 July 2016.

Attendees at the event, including professionals from the higher education sector, heard Mr Naidu explain the concept of a Management University – an institution which functions as more than a business school, and yet is more focused in curriculum and scholarly output than a comprehensive university.

In the first part of the lecture, Mr Naidu underscored three established ways of practicing higher education, namely the Economic Market, the Competitive Status Hierarchy and Collaborative Global Networks, all of which institutions function on simultaneously. These were modelled after a lecture given by Professor Simon Marginson in 2011.

Firstly, in the Economic Market, education and research are products, and higher education is economic competition between nations for tuition fees and talent. In other words, universities act like business firms.

Secondly, the Competitive Status Hierarchy sees education as a field of status rankings and competitions; universities provide their graduates with status – and the hierarchy is influenced by international rankings. Quoting Professor Marginson’s summary of this perspective, Mr Naidu said, “the bottom line for the university is its own prestige. Its revenues are only a means to that end. The appeal of being able to claim status is hard to resist for most of us.”

Finally, under Collaborative Global Networks, the potentially more egalitarian world of universities is patterned by communications, collegiality and global alliances, focusing attention on the creation of public goods for the benefit for society. This third imaginary is the one that Management Universities seek to strengthen through their collaborations.

Mr Naidu continued with the second part of the lecture by describing Management Universities. These grow the impact of management education and scholarship – and pursue positive social and economic effects beyond purely private goods, such as the preservation of social and environmental capital. This is possible because of synergy with complementary management disciplines such as Information Systems, Law and Public Policy. He also outlined some distinctive and innovative educational and research programmes at various Management Universities.

A key challenge for Management Universities is ensuring the pursuit of public good(s) in addition to private goods since ‘business is a part of society and not apart from society’, concluded Mr Naidu. Thus, these institutions pursue ‘global public goods’ such as socially-responsible, internationally-experienced managers and interdisciplinary research with a transnational (or ‘Glo-cal’) relevance. He shared two examples of impact on cross-sector interactions to enhance public goods for society. The first was Nobel winner, Jean Tirole’s work on the regulation of dominant firms and the telecommunications industry. The second was the potential for collaborative governance of cyberspace by the business, government and people sectors.

In an increasingly interdependent world, cross-sector partnerships and collaborative governance can help enable innovation of both private goods and public good(s) in pursuit of sustainable and equitable development.

Mr Naidu then proceeded to engage audiences in a lively dialogue session, with various questions raised ranging from challenges that Management Universities and other specialised universities like LSE face in competing in international rankings, to whether universities can safeguard indigenous knowledge such as culture and heritage.

On the issue of Management Universities’ bundling mandatory ‘merit goods’ into their programmes and concerns about “consumer sovereignty’, Mr Naidu opined: “Students are not simply consumers of pure private goods. Nonetheless, if we think something is better for our students and society than they initially appreciate, we should certainly make sure that early cohorts have a positive experience and advocate it enthusiastically as alumni.” He cited SMU’s community service and University of St Gallen’s Contextual Studies curriculum as examples of merit goods that had been introduced successfully.

Excerpts of Mr Naidu’s lecture can be viewed here.