Introduction to the theme

“Toward the end of the second millennium of the Christian Era several events of historical significance have transformed the social landscape of human life.” (Manuel Castells)

The quotation above is the first sentence from Manuel Castells trilogy on “the information age”. His grand search to make sense of the, sometimes, bewildering transformation in the past few decades. Among these transformations he reckons the following. First, a technological transformation: “A technological revolution, centered around information technologies, is reshaping, at accelerated pace, the material basis of society.” Second, globalization: “Economies throughout the world have become globally interdependent, introducing a new form of relationship between economy, state and society in a system of variable geometry.” And, third, the restructuring of economies: “Capitalism itself has undergone a process of profound restructuring, characterized by greater flexibility in management, decentralization and networking of firms both internally and in their relationships to other firms…”

At CHEPS we are fascinated by the question what these development mean for the future of our Higher Education institutions. In our first summer school, last year, we sought to interpret the challenges that the institutions are facing with respect to the concept of stakeholders. Due to processes of individualisation, the rise of network/ knowledge economies, the retreat of the state etc., higher education institutions are no longer solely accountable to government but are in a constant dialogue with their stakeholders in society. As a consequence, higher education institutions are facing growing heterogeneity and unpredictability. With the participants and a few distinguished scholars in the field of higher education we analyzed the growing number of actors that have a stake in higher education. We focused on the impact of new modes of co-ordination by national governments, processes of globalization and internationalization and new technologies and products.

This year we moved one step further and discussed the possible consequences for the structure of higher education institutions. The central theme of our discussions was: ‘The rise of the networked university’. The creation of a networked university is one of the ways in which universities could get a grip on the increased salience of stakeholders in their organisation. It means a transformation from a traditional orientation on supply to an orientation that is customer-driven and network-based. It is an approach that focuses on the highest value for the university’s stakeholders and, therefore, raises the university’s chances of survival in an environment characterised by heterogeneity and unpredictability. It is an approach that focuses on value but ‘value’ does not just mean money, it encompasses more. Value can mean any of the following: customer-oriented value (the right product, on the right time, for the right price), value to workers (meaningful work, emotional income), financial value (return to risk ratio), or value for society as a whole (international competitiveness, just society, healthy environment). For the university this means value has a socio-economic (including financial) as well as an academic dimension (including the contribution to society, region, etc.).