Updated: Sep 10, 2020

The perennial challenge of private and state educational institutions is how to achieve the often elusive balance between their academic and their commercial objectives. More specifically, their problem is how to deliver quality programmes, taught by quality faculty within quality infrastructure, while simultaneously increasing enrolment and revenue for sustainability.

Scott Beardsley refers to “meaningful impact on the world and increased billings - there need be no tension between those”. What, then, is holding back many institutions from achieving both “impact” and “billings”? How can we make academic and business imperatives compatible rather than competing?

What we often overlook in this commercial-academia dissonance is that one cannot exist without the other. Even in non-profit institutions, of which the term is largely an oxymoron, growth and sustainability are required. Equally, profit should not be assumed to denote commodification of education. Commodification of institutional assets, however, can diversify revenue streams for expansion of the academic project, without scope-creep on teaching and learning.

Clearly, individuals and economies are struggling to do more with less. There is a continuous increase in democratisation of access to knowledge, along with (buzzword alert) machine learning, AI, 4IR, blockchain, scale, disruption, and big data, etcetera. Surely we must reframe our world-views for the continued progression of knowledge, and the survival of institutions at all strata of education?

In the article The pragmatic road to a PhD Marler and Young note,

Perhaps, however, the apparent conflict between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of money is illusory – just a bygone prejudice grounded in historical customs. We assume that knowledge and money are two opposing interests, but maybe there is simply a change in preference.

Is our greatest challenge as academics and administrators, then, not what we have to learn to progress, but rather what we have to unlearn first, namely, inherited beliefs about roles and purpose? I believe it is achievable. We just have to be willing.

As it is easy to oversimply and catastrophise, I’d value your comments, feedback and suggestions as we continue to make this path as we walk it.


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