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About this book

Over the last few decades universities in Australia and overseas have been criticized for not meeting the needs and expectations of the societies in which they operate. At the heart of this problem is their strategy. This book reviews the organizational-level strategies of some of Australia’s prominent universities. It is based on their public documents that boldly report how they see their role in society and how they intend to navigate the future. These strategic statements are written to proclaim relevance, showcase achievements, attract students, and help to gain the support of the communities in which they operate. Using a strategy framework taught in their business schools, this book suggests that most such statements are deficient. Grand aspirations substitute for realistic operations and outcomes. The analysis also suggests that many of Australia’s universities are poorly governed and have become too complex and bureaucratic. A greater focus on their core responsibilities would help alleviate their current funding predicament.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. Australia’s Universities

Abstract
Australia’s public universities are robust institutions that play a crucial role in strengthening the economic and social fabric of the country. They have a Grand Bargain with the state in which they are provided with base funding to educate students to participate in the growing knowledge economy. They also have a civic role to advance knowledge and understanding and to shape the debate on crucial issues like climate change. Because these roles require more money than is provided from government sources, the universities have adopted a commercial mindset. To guide this mindset, they each produce and publish an organisation-level strategy. We argue that these strategies are incomplete and often incoherent.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

2. The University Strategy Narrative: Advertisement, Story or Blueprint?

Abstract
Strategies are narratives about how an organisation will engage its future. These stories can play three roles for a university. They can advertise the university, they can tell a story of how the university will navigate a path through the future or they can be a blueprint outlining the choices and investments necessary to survive and prosper. Australia’s public universities use their statements of strategy to play all three roles. However, the statements that look like advertisements inevitably trivialise the importance of strategy and are easily ignored by its stakeholders.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

3. University Governance: Weak at the Top

Abstract
The strategy of a university is generally developed by the senior executive of the institution. The council plays a key role by working with the vice chancellor and ultimately endorsing the strategy. However, most members of the councils of Australia’s universities do not have the skillset to develop or skilfully assess organisational-level strategy. Most members are volunteer appointees selected to represent a constituency. Few of these members have, nor are they required to have, any experience in strategy development. Thus, most university strategies are never stress-tested prior to their endorsement by the chief governing body of the university.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

4. What Is Strategy?

Abstract
Strategy is the pattern of decisions that set the long-term direction of an organisation. For a university it guides and coordinates its principal operations of research, education and engagement with the community and industry. The strategy framework described here highlights the roles of vision, objectives, operations, business model and organisational design. All these elements must be present and aligned for the strategy to be comprehensive and coherent. However, most university strategies only contain some of these elements. There is an overemphasis on vision and objectives, and very little mention of the business model of the institution. As such they are deficient.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

5. Strategic Frameworks

Abstract
The discipline of strategy has a language and set of diagnostic frameworks. These are used to guide the development and assessment of strategy. Some of the key frameworks are presented here. Because this language is seldom used by the universities to communicate their strategies, it leaves the impression that some of the core concepts of the discipline were not used to guide the development of these strategies. This chapter also addresses the issues of the likely disruptive influence of MOOCs on university education and the role that rankings are playing in measuring performance guiding future strategy.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

6. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Environment, Competition, Resources and Capabilities

Abstract
Strategic analysis starts with an analysis of the environment in which a university operates. However, statements of strategy typically only provide a partial overview of the institutional environment in which they operate. They also provide scant detail on the strengths and weaknesses of their core resources and capabilities. To fill the first gap, Universities Australia provides much background information. Also, consulting firms are happy to make up scenarios of the future and what the University of the Future will look like. To fill the second gap requires some detective work in the university annual reports. And given that universities compete for resources in Australia and overseas, it is disconcerting that no university is willing to discuss its direct competitors or its competitive strategy.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

7. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Mission, Vision and Values

Abstract
Like many of their overseas counterparts Australia’s public universities have a grand vision. This is typically stated as shaping students’ lives and making a global contribution to research. This vision is then transformed into the missions of education, research and engagement with the community and industry. All of Australia’s universities have these multiple missions. The problem is to integrate them into a single overarching telos, or fundamental purpose. To see how well this is achieved, we examine the overlap of these multiple missions. Many statements of strategy do a poor job explaining how these missions combine to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The value chain framework is a good illustration of how many university missions reside in their own silo of activity.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

8. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Objectives

Abstract
To cater to a grand vision and multiple missions, universities have an assortment of impressive objectives. The key problem with these is that they are often presented as a laundry list rather than a portfolio. As the University of New South Wales statement notes, everything is equally important and everybody is responsible for every objective. To be implemented, strategic objectives need accountability and support by the key performance indicators (KPIs) of front-line service providers. Here we find that there is often no direct line-of-sight between some of the main institutional objectives and the KPIs of the academics. In fact, in some key instances the KPIs of the academics are completely divorced from the strategic objectives of the institution. We call this ‘hoping for A while rewarding B’.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

9. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Arenas, Vehicles, Differentiators, Staging and Economic Logic

Abstract
Because Australia’s universities have multiple missions, they also have a broad scope of operations. Notwithstanding this, there are a set of institutional mechanisms that ensure a large degree of sameness across the academic footprint of the universities. They lack fundamental differentiation. Also, the cost structure of the universities requires some faculties (cash cows) to generate free cash flow to fund the research operations of other faculties. Because university research is expensive, universities are trying to convince industry to fund more of this activity. However, universities have many obstacles to overcome in this endeavour.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

10. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Strategy

Abstract
As a group, Australia’s public universities are weakly differentiated.They have more points-of-parity than points-of-difference.This presents an opportunity for a new university to adopt either a focus or a cost-leadership strategy and disrupt the current situation.Currently, most universities look to superficial ways to communicate their minor points-of-difference.In this endeavour many would benefit from the services of a good advertising agency.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

11. What Are the Strategies of Australia’s Universities? Organisational Structure

Abstract
Because of their broad scope, universities are complex organisations.Most publish a simplified organisation chart on their website.Notwithstanding the fact that the structure of an organisation is a key factor in the execution of strategy, seldom are these charts linked directly back to the strategy of the institution. In essence, they are strategy-free.However, what they do show is a managerial bureaucracy surrounding the academic functions of the university.Inevitably, this organisational complexity imposes its will on the academic community.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

12. A New University

Abstract
Here we describe a new specialist university.Its nature replicates that of some overseas institutions.This case is used to illustrate the issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive statement of strategy.It also illustrates the power and appeal of a focus strategy in the university education sector.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

13. Final Thoughts

Abstract
Here we suggest that the relevant government ministers could think more strategically about the portfolio of Australia’s public universities. We suggest that there is much duplication and many pockets of mediocrity. By asking particular universities to focus on key areas the portfolio could be reorganised to provide the breadth and quality of research and education the country needs.
Timothy Devinney, Grahame Dowling

Backmatter

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