The CHEPS Research Profile

There’s a multitude of demands placed on higher education today. Demands from students, businesses, governments, communities, non-profit organisations, et cetera. Universities and other higher education institutions (HEIs) are not just expected to produce highly skilled graduates and world-class research, but also to contribute to solving some of the Grand Challenges of our societies. Where tasks and demands are multiplying, HEIs run the risk of becoming overloaded and have to operate strategically. They need capacity to respond, adequate resources, as well as sufficient room to move. It’s the stakeholders in their environment (in particular government, students, business) that enable and co-determine how HEIs function, how they differentiate their services and how well they can carry out their role in meeting demands and creating public value.

This may be summarised by the picture below, a Strategic Triangle (see Moore, 1995, 2003).

The triangle visualises the space within which public managers operate and which both constrains and facilitates the pursuit of public value.

The CHEPS research profile – the focus areas of our research – can be presented using this strategic triangle:


Public Value. The services that HEIs provide are expected to contribute to society – to the common good. HEIs are public enterprises. The public value concept stresses the idea that they provide services that go beyond simple task fulfillment or a delivery of performance targets. HEIs are expected to contribute to solving problems that are in the public interest rather than meeting the needs of customers in pure economic terms. As such they are increasingly expected to demonstrate the public value of their activities and secure legitimacy with the general public. This corner of the triangle relates to the substantive aims of public programmes against which impact and performance should be measured. These aims – the missions of higher education – are many. A major challenge for higher education therefore is to balance the various missions. For strategic decision-makers it means preventing mission overload and overstretching.

Examples of the kinds of research projects CHEPS is carrying out in this area of the triangle are studies about quality assurance, social engagement, the third mission of universities (next to their teaching and research missions), and studies on the construction and effects of rankings (e.g. U-Multirank) and classifications (e.g. U-Map). Studies like these will help us better understand public value and how it may be assessed.


Enabling and authorising environment. This point of the triangle relates to the environment within which HEIs, their students and academics (teaching and research staff) operate. It is the regulation and support of the HEIs’ various stakeholders – the most important one being the government – that shape the space in which HEIs operate. The multiplication of stakeholder demands in higher education leads to a multiplication of objectives and accountabilities for these organisations. Decision makers in HEIs must be accountable upwardly and outwardly to their stakeholders and engage them in an on-going process of dialogue and deliberation.

In its research, CHEPS will continue to study the effects and impacts of public programmes shaping the authorising environment for HEIs and their students. In the various as well as the implementation and design of policy instruments and the effectiveness of funding reforms in higher education.


Capability and resources. The third point of the strategic triangle relates to how managers and other strategic decision-makers are employing the available resources and capabilities to achieve the public value aims set for the HEIs. Resources – including finance, and personnel – are limited, if not fixed. Through demonstrating their public value, HEIs will have to persuade the authorising environment to continue the public support. Given limited government budgets and claims HEIs will have to be entrepreneurial in terms of generating resources from alternative sources and make the case for additional resources coming from private individuals, business and donors. Since higher education is very much about people and their skills, a key challenge is how to design human resources policies that support individual creativity as well as efficiency. And because technologies are changing rapidly, another major challenge will be how to integrate technology-driven innovations into the teaching, research and outreach activities of HEIs.

Over the years, CHEPS has been carrying out research on this area of the strategic triangle – looking at the academic profession, the professionalization of the university’s support staff, resource allocation issues and at what makes an entrepreneurial university.


The strategic decision-maker. Decision-makers in higher education are in the middle of this triangle. In the public value management perspective, managers on the institutional as well as on the national level have to align the three corners of the strategic triangle. The strategic manager is accountable upwards to authorities, downwards through the organisation’s management and operational lines, and outwards to the public. Achieving alignment between the three requires besides strategic competencies a profound knowledge of the interests and attitudes of stakeholders in the relevant environments, as well as insight into the effects of tools, policy instruments and resources that may be used to create (and demonstrate) public value. To meet the many stakeholder claims and calls for public value they may have to rely on a networked governance approach (Stoker, 2006). This notion goes beyond command-and-control and market models. It suggests a replacement of the New Public Management approach (Hood, 1991) to public sector reform. Governance nowadays has to deal with a multitude of policy actors, policy levels and policy instruments. For HEIs that provide teaching and research this requires an appropriate response in terms of the ‘clients’ they cater for, the type and conditions of the services they provide, and whether they seek cooperation or competition with other providers in an increasingly globalised world.

How alignment is achieved between the three corners of the triangle is what interests CHEPS. And whether the outcome produces a higher education landscape that meets individual and societal needs. CHEPS will continue to study initiatives to reform or modernise the governance of higher education – on the national, supra-national and institutional levels. What governance reforms can we observe in higher education? What is smart governance? And, how do we get the incentives right? To prevent mission overload, HEIs may want to specialise and do a few things very well, rather than do a lot of things only reasonably well. In recent years, CHEPS has been very active in studying policies that aim to support processes of specialisation and differentiation in higher education. One such policy relies on performance contracts. Other policies aimed at profiling may be built on the idea of competition – for funding, or for prestige – or on some form of government steering, planning or regulation. In its projects for national and European governments, CHEPS has studied many international initiatives aimed at reforming governance and funding. Our ambition is to keep combining state-of-the-art insights in public sector reform with our vast empirical knowledge of higher education.