Quote: Universities and business models

There are three generic types of business models: solution shops, value-adding process businesses, and facilitated user networks. Each of these is comprised of its own value proposition, resources, processes, and profit formula. Universities have become conflations of all three types of business models. This has resulted in extraordinarily complex—some might say confused—institutions where much of the cost is tied up in coordinative overhead rather than in research and teaching. A key reason why the for-profit universities and other universities such as Western Governor’s have been gaining such traction in today’s higher education market is that they don’t conflate the three types of business models.


Universities emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries primarily as teaching institutions, but most gradually evolved to become expensive conflations of all three types of models with three value propositions: research, organized as a solution-shop model; teaching, which is a value-adding process activity; which is a value-adding process activity; and facilitated networks, within which students work to help each other succeed and have fun. A typical state university today is the equivalent of having merged major consulting firm McKinsey with Whirlpool’s manufacturing operations and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. They have three fundamentally different and incompatible business models all housed within the same organization.

Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., & Caldera, L. (2011). Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education  [pp. 33-35]

Quote: Academics as the Four Yorkshiremen

While there are some, perhaps-justified, fears about modern academia effectively losing the insights of the next Newton, it’s worth recalling the circumstances in which many of the well-known figures in the history of science conducted their work. While they may not have been writing grant reports of marking exams, they were likely seeking patronage, carrying on journalistic careers, undertaking the duties of a doctor or a vicar, teaching, family business or otherwise making a – usually non-scientific – living.

Those who really were excluded were not solitary geniuses who could not find sufficient time for thinking, but those who were, as a result of class, geography, race or gender, never likely to have the opportunity to begin an education, let alone contribute to the established scientific societies and journals. And this affected the science that was done: ample research shows how the norms, assumptions and interests of elites have shaped supposedly value-free science.

Rebekah Higgitt, “Who’s missing in modern academia, solitary geniuses, or something much more significant”

This quote brings us to the heart of “well-in-the-bad-old-days-things-were-simpler ‘argument’, that has been trotted out since time immemorial. It’s the academic’s equivalent of the Four Yorkshiremen.

Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”

But you try and tell the young people today that…

The demands made on academics are of course onerous, and we can’t deny that. But nor should we let this blind us to the situation faced by others in the wider academic and research world. We cannot let the poor working conditions of those who are employed blind us to the undermining of the work itself. We see this in the nouveau-indentured labour of the graduate students, the adjuncts, the non-tenure track lecturers, and the researchers on short/fixed-term contracts, all with little hope of security. Being aware of this casualization of academic labour, and the erosion of tenure, is imperative.

Getting rid of the academic as the heart of the academy is not a matter of ‘including stakeholders’, or ‘increasing efficiency’, or bringing better organizational models to bear. It is a coup against knowledge, and all the processes required to create it. Lecturers and researchers are at the heart of academia, as they live their lives in it. They cannot do what they do without the university. Administrators could go and administer anything, elsewhere. Students hang around for 3-4 years (any longer, and they cross over the border from student to researcher, on to the academic side of things) and then are gone. Presidents and Rectors always have the option to helm other forms of organization. But when we allow the role of  the academic as researcher and teacher to be shunted to one side, we lose something. It is not to suggest that, Smaug atop the horde, the academic is at the pinnacle of a hierarchy, and all others are subordinate to them. Rather it is that the academic has the centrality of the hub, the central node in the vast knowledge-creating network that is the university. Only by recognising, and asserting this can we preserve the workers as well as the work.

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Social implications of altered economic conditions


The capitalist reorganization of the societal whole enables more fluid relations between individuals, whose social and economic ties predominantly assume contractual forms. The market economy allows agents of commerce to operate independently of societal bonds of lordship and servitude, but the household also ceases to be a site of manufacture and trade. As a consequence, the intimate familial circle of parents and children seems to be composed of autonomous individuals united not by production, but by mutual love and sympathy. Within the released sphere of intimacy, the bourgeoisie also discovers and explores a new mode of subjectivity, and the members of the family become readers and writers of emotionally saturated letters and diaries. On the basis of this new repertoire of experiences, they begin to conceive of themselves as human beings with an existence beyond prescribed official roles.

From the brief social history of coffee by Jakob Norberg, over at Eurozine.

Higher education research, networks, and the new metrics

Reading about “The benefits of the research blog” at the Kpop Kollective, an interesting corollary of having a research blog springs to mind. William Gunn, who is Mendeley’s head of academic outreach, noted recently in a Research Trends virtual seminar (available here, along with the other seminars of the day) that when it comes to making your work/publications/etc. available for download on repositories (etc.) that “Readership patterns correlate with eventual citation patterns”, when we understand readership patterns here to be synonymous with actual downloads rather than just clicks. We assume here when somebody downloads the pdf (or recording, or whatever else) of your work, that they intend to read it (clicking on the page which has this download link usually just has the abstract, which is of limited use in deciding “I am/am not interested in this work”). This allows you, as a researcher, to know in advance of publication how your work will be received. Thinking about this leads to some interesting questions.

Fig. 1: Traditional research output model

Fig. 1: Traditional research output model

The older model of how we conceive publication is as in Fig. 1. We have a fairly direct vector going from research to output to the reception of this output. This reception, and all other related factors such as citation counts and other forms of bibliometric analysis taking place on a meso- and macro-level, is what influences a researcher’s continued work. Do I continue to focus on the same things? Is there an interested audience for this type of work, and am I connecting with them? This is one of the points which is often glossed over in discussions of bibliometrics. There is something of a binary attitude towards such forms of quantitative analysis, where by those in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematical fields (STEM) are held to be most readily catered for by bibliometrics, where as those in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) are not. In my work in this area, for both STEM and AHSS researchers, I take a somewhat tempered view. My philosophical background in hermeneutics and the philosophies of information and knowledge (Gadamer, Ricoeur, et al.) allows me to see that bibliometrics is a tool to try put a researcher’s work into context. That is what hermeneutics is all about. The difficulty is that this tool is extremely blunt, and that the results are far too slow in coming. Calling these “metrics” is misleading, as it arrogates a notion of precision and agreed-upon rules of measurement where at best we have indicators – and beyond that not much aside from a lot of disagreement!

Continue reading

Infrastructure and Superstructure


Again and again, however, such confusion causes people who should know better to decide that, because they have located some pervasive superstructural pattern (a prevalence of petty street crime in neighborhood X, say), superstructure here is actually producing all the visible infrastructural changes (“There was an influx of Puerto Ricans in neighborhood X, and a subsequent rise in drugs and petty street crimes; because of this, eventually the neighborhood was driven down till it became an all but abandoned slum where nobody, not even the Puerto Ricans, would live anymore . . .”), when, at the infrastructural level, what has actually happened is that landlords-as-a-class have realized that the older buildings in neighborhood X require more maintenance and thus a greater expenditure, so that they concentrate all their economic interest on newer properties with larger living units in neighborhood Y to the east, which is popular with young white upwardly mobile executives. The result is the decline of neighborhood X, of which street crime, drugs, and so on are only a symptom—though, as superstructural elements, those symptoms stabilize (i.e., help to assure) that decline and combat any small local attempts to reverse it by less than a major infrastructural change.

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 163.

Emergence is not Evolution

I have previously written about emergence in “Five types of change in philosophy”, even comparing emergence and evolution in types four and five. Nevertheless, I wanted to say something more focused on the distinction here. In my previous post, I alluded to there being a fallacy of absent agency, and this fallacy I believe to be a result of an insufficient understanding of what differentiates emergence, and why it is distinct from the more well known idea of evolution. The following is something I wrote about Hayek‘s The Constitution of Liberty.  I am no great fan of Hayek’s, and this was part of a larger piece of work to try supplement his failings via the liberating hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Necessarily this has a fragmentary feel, but I have left it more or less as is.

What is often overlooked in readings of Hayek is that his politics implies an epistemology. To miss this point, is to misread Hayek. Continue reading

Values versus ideas

The problem with values is that they are accepted. They are the “givens” of the world as we are born into it. They are something people “have”. The euphemism of values as being “shared” is incredibly misleading, as the social ideal which underlies all values is authoritarian, coercive, and based on a closed identity. There is the obsession of hoarding, of possession, of not sharing. Values are ineluctably tied up with property as the highest ideal. With values, there is a finite social capital/energy/etc., and the idea of this comes from racist notions of purity and a pre-modern obsession with finitude. This is a social rhetoric which has the “Decline of the West” in the back of its mind at all times. It is fear of the alien, of the new, of blood being polluted. This rhetoric will always be used as a weapon by conservatives of all flavours. “Values” are the last gasps of a dying order. They are the zero sum game dragon atop the pile of gold.

In contrast with this we have ideas. Ideas are vital, they are something we encounter when we are ready for them, or interested in them. Ideas are created, debated, developed. They are dynamic, a process. More than that, they are open. The sociality of the idea is open to all who are willing to engage. It is not closed, it does not define an us and a them. You can know of values, but nevertheless be excluded because you do not “share” them. In contrast, you can be familiar with ideas, and even disagree with them, but even at that you are caught up in the network of debate and discussion which are the life-blood of all ideas. The ideal behind ideas is not finite, but unbounded. There is no zero sum game for ideas. The impulse behind ideas at all time is to open up, to reach beyond, to embrace, to search.

The rhetoric of ideas, then, is a positive, enabling rhetoric. It is a rhetoric of those committed to some type of progress, to change, to development, to the improvement of a social situation. They do not call for a falling in to line. So, a charity based on values can go to a country in need of assistance in some manner, and may coercively offer assistance once you fall in to line with their values. By contrast, a charity based on ideas doesn’t care if you even known the idea which informs their action. Ideas are possibility, values are an attempt to hide from failure. So, if a discussion of “values” comes up, note that it is a monologue which you are being allowed to listen in on – for now. But you may be excluded at any moment. Ideas have the lowest entry costs of all. All that is required is your interest, and your willingness to engage. Ideas make a community of the entire world.

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