Challenges and Paradigms for Institutional Research in a Globalised Higher Education System
The world of higher education (HE) is very different today to the one that prevailed ten, twenty or even forty years ago. Since the 1970s, but even more so since the 2000s, HE has undergone a rapid transformation parallel to other industries operating in a rapidly changing world.
In the past, universities responded to fewer longer-term policy priorities, but today such priorities arrive fast and change quickly as governments sense it is time for another policy review. The nature of work in HE, and IR in particular, has changed accordingly over the years. Within the context of the work undertaken by academic-related and support staff in universities, we now need to view IR as a function and professional practice in tertiary education. IR has become an essential function in the way institutions seek to fulfil their mission and accomplish their vision.
Whilst the roots of IR reside unquestionably in the United States, the practice of IR has taken different but complementary forms in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Netherlands and South Africa. However, a common thread across IR practitioners worldwide is that we provide information about the wider national and international context in which higher education institutions operate. IR is no longer a backroom data crunching operation, although this is still very important. It is now situated at the forefront of policy setting, guiding institutions as they navigate through reform, strategically reposition, and deal with growing uncertainty. In order to meet changing institutional demands, IR practitioners need to blend a range of skills and utilise their experience effectively and efficiently in activities that include: data analysis; policy analysis; research methods; environmental scanning; and strategy development.
In this keynote, we will examine the history of IR, the challenges of today and address the uncertainties of the future. We will seek to explore the following critical questions:
- Where is IR coming from and where is it heading – within the national, trans-regional and global contexts?
- What are the functions of IR in an inter-connected, competitive and globalised higher education environment?
- How are we fulfilling our role as institutional researchers and institutional visionaries in building the big policy picture for decision makers?
- How can we, institutional researchers, be innovative in our functions and professionalism at times of scarcity, uncertainty and ever changing work priorities?