Developing a Research Strategy for UNITECH in the framework of the PNG Vision 2050
Presented at the 5th Research, Science and Development Conference
Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby PNG, 25-29 June 2012
(Check against delivery)
Dr. Albert Schram
Papua New Guinea University of Technology UNITECH
The main purpose of this paper is to show how a university can realize its mission more efficiently by determining targets for a selected set of institution-specific indicators in the framework of a strategy management system, such as the balanced scorecard. These targets can be aligned with higher level targets from the national planning efforts.
All universities in the world have three general missions - teaching, research and community service. In addition, universities have a specific mission which makes them unique. For UNITECH this is "engendering critical evaluation and application of science & technology for PNG and the South Pacific".
Missions statements should describe what organizations do, which is distinct from the final purpose or outcome of these activities is different (Drucker 2006). The purpose of teaching is learning, the purpose of research is generating new knowledge, and the purpose of the third mission is different for each university ranging from business goals, to more educational, social or environmental goals. For UNITECH the purpose of critical evaluation and application of relevant technology is to contribute to the development of PNG in line with Vision 2050 national strategic plan. In this paper, however, we will concentrate on the research mission and its purpose.
The first qualification, I need to make is that I can not yet present the indicator set created by UNITECH Faculty and staff. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control the workshop in April and in June where this exercise was due to take place, was postponed twice. The second qualification, is that I don't want to suggest that indicators and numbers will solve PNG higher education sector. Nowadays, in higher education there is much attention for the plethora of university rankings and indicators. We argue, however, in this paper that the transparency and balance inherent in the BSC framework allows the production of meaningful information about a university for appropriate assessments and decisions (Kaplan and Norton 2007).
Most universities use series of key performance indicators (KPI's) to measure the performance of the organization. The BSC framework proposes to select a limited set of 20 or 25 indicators or so, which describe and are used to communicate the game plan of the university. Although applications in the private sector are more numerous, many universities use the BSC. With focused investment, lots of talent and a capacity to retain it, innovation in research and teaching, and effective strategic management some young universities have managed to achieve in a matter of decades, what European and US elite universities have developed over many generation. We can observe this in the Times Higher Education ranking of the top 100 universities under 50 years old (THE 2012). The cases of Maastricht University (ranked 16, founded 1976), Macquarie University (ranked 32 founded 1964), Wollongong (ranked 32 founded 1975) and Curtin (ranked 75, founded 1987) are remarkable because they score high on the list and all have applied the BSC framework. It seems, therefore, the BSC strategic management system has been a useful tool for some of these universities.
When creating the balanced scorecard to implement the strategy, each organization must chose its own performance indicators matching its strategy, and its unique mission. We will find that studying other examples will not help. An indicator set that is both relevant and balanced, and is part of a periodically revised strategic management system will produce the desired focus and results.
The paper is divided into three sections:
1- Higher Education in PNG at the cross roads,
2- A research strategy for PNG universities, and
3- Balanced indicators for research performance.
Higher Education in PNG at a cross roads
At independence in 1975, PNG inherited a large physical university infrastructure , and a staff of ex-pat academics, which it did not really know what to do with. As a consequence, it never realized that in order to maintain this intellectual and physical capital it had to be clear about its dependence on foreign academics, and invest in the upkeep of its physical capital. Despite attempts to plan for the higher education sector, there was no real higher education policy. Most likely, in the first decades after independence it had too many other developmental challenges.
The lack of attention for higher education policy is lamentable, because universities generate the relevant knowledge which allow to develop primary and secondary education, and train the teachers. In addition, lack of competent doctors and engineers will not allow a country to maintain its health system or physical infrastructure, on which the economy depends.
In 2009, UNITECH received a wake up call when the Australian of Engineers evaluated technical education in PNG. The main recommendation for UNITECH was to proceed towards professional accreditation. This call for action was not heeded, and instead a defensive approach was taken. The second call for action came with the 2010 Independent Review of the PNG University System or the Namaliu-Garnaut report. Initially, UNITECH again opposed, and went public with it, but when it was accepted as government policy by the National Executive Council, a part of the management started to accept some of the notions hesitantly. Now IRUS has been accepted as government policy, and all vice-chancellors in PNG have committed in writing to make an effort towards international institutional accreditation.
The authors of the IRUS deserve praise for this courageous exercise, which not only brought to the foreground some of the weaknesses of the PNG university system, but also proposes some solutions. The report advocates a focus on quality, and not quantity of graduates. After decades of break-neck growth (over 10%, doubling student population every 7 years), the university system is overstretched. Investments must be made to rebuild the resources required for teaching and research. At this point, it does not make any sense to increase student numbers even further while not first address under-staffing, and quality assurance.
Going for volume may be a viable strategy in some businesses but it does not work in higher education. Staff to student ratios would grow beyond any internationally acceptable standard, physical infrastructure will explode out of its seams, and completion rates of students would decrease noticeably. Fortunately, since 2007 the state of PNG has invested in upgrading teaching and research resources, and increased staffing ceilings, although investment has been only about fraction of what is needed.
From their side, PNG universities need to improve accountability and transparency by improving their governance structure. In particular, the world record size of the Council of over 30, needs to be reduced to a more management 12 or 15 in line with best-practice internationally. This will reduce the number of Council members who were nominated for reasons not related to their competences and are not contributing. Equally important this measure will reduce costs.
According to these reports, a strong focus is necessary on re-establishing the basic conditions for teaching, research and running a university. In this day and age, and especially when educating engineers, broadband internet is essential for teaching, and more strongly so for research. You can not create new knowledge if you do not have an idea what existing knowledge is (Popper 1986). The only way to find out about the state-of-the-art, is by accessing databases through the internet.
There are no justifications for not linking up the oceanic and fiber optic cables which are now monopolized by PNG Tellikom and PNG Power. The failure to do so the last 10 years, has put PNG back 20 years in development. Broadband internet has become essential for education, business and government, and the failure to connect is a free ticket into the digital abyss. Currently, for example, UNITECH has a satellite connection managing a theoretical 2-5 Mb/s download speed, when not saturated as it is during most of the business day. Nowadays, universities in the US and Europe are managing 1 Tb/s which is 200.000 to 500.000 times quicker.
UNITECH's mission is to develop teaching, research and community outreach of a high standard, and specifically engendering critical evaluation and application of S&T for PNG and the South Pacific. In its Vision 2030 document it establishes three mid-term objectives: create post-graduate programs, promote entrepreneurship, and increase externalisation. Currently, we have set up task forces and teams for two of these three objectives. UNITECH's Vision 2030 document links in well with PNG's Vision 2050. Vision 2050 prioritizes some sectors for development, and allows for an estimation of the man power needs.
The debate on higher education has been framed as to focus the number of graduates, while their quality again has been assumed. As the report of Engineers Australia and the Namaliu-Garnaut report makes clear, however, the quality of the graduates needs to be improved substantially. This will have an effect on quantity, since completion rates will increase when quality of teaching is improved. Therefore quality before growth, not after.
Soon we will have a new democratically elected government in PNG, a new DG of OHE, new VC's at UPNG and UNITECH, we have vibrant and growing private universities like PAU and DWU. Let's not let this opportunity pass to create an adequately staffed, financially sustainable and internationally recognized university system in PNG.
A research strategy for universities in PNG
Let's first consider the role of research in modern universities. In Europe, the Lisbon goal of making Europe the most competitive knowledge based economy in the world, implies government and private sector need to invest at least 3% of GDP in research, as the US, Korea and Japan have been doing. Without a similar investment and a coordinated effort, technological innovation will lag behind, and economic growth will diminish further. The triple helix model, which means government, industry and academia need to coordinate their efforts and investments (Jo Ritzen 2009). The life-long learning and the 7th Framework program (FP7) - the largest research grant program in the world - contribute to a coordinated and higher level of investment in research. The Cooperation window in particular is geared towards producing research results that can be applied in policy making or for developing innovative and marketable products (Landry, Amara, and Ouimet 2007).
The FP7 program is open for researchers of any nationality, and for any higher education institution in the world. After all, talented researchers can be born anywhere in the world, and with Europe's low population growth it needs to import it as the US has been doing for over 50 years. It is therefore laudable that a national contact point for FP7 has been created at OHE.
Apart from contributing to technological innovation, which is what drives economic growth in developed economies, universities have another important social responsibility, which is to produce employable graduates (Schram 2010). In order to do this they have to prepare graduates for the future, not for today's needs. It is therefore not sufficient to replicate knowledge, but new knowledge needs to be continuously created and integrated into teaching. This intimate connection between research and teaching is what makes universities highly relevant in society.
Conventionally research of an international standard has the following characteristics:
a- undertaken or supervised by someone who has proved his competency in research, a doctor,
b- global in nature and universal in its application,
c- embedded in an ongoing discussion among specialist,
d- published after anonymous peer review,
e- harnessed for the public good by cooperation with government and industry.
By this definition much of what is presented at this conference, including this speech is not research, and it does not matter. The spirit of research is very much present here, all these researchers coming to present their findings, or sometimes mere thoughts. This spirit of research will fuel the fire which will eventually produce new valid and reliable knowledge, and relevant technological innovation.
Balanced set of indicators in S&T research
Stated in plain language, a possible research strategy for any university in PNG is to:
- improve national coordination of research efforts in key research areas,
- use existing resources more efficiently and create some critical mass by cooperation,
- improve the effectiveness and efficiency of national and foreign research grants,
- create partnerships with foreign universities where they get access to our precious resources and we get access to their research facilities (labs and libraries), and
- increase corporate sponsorship of research.
In order to implement this strategy, the challenge is to find a balanced set of lead indicators which capture it, and make it possible to measure progress towards specific targets. The indicators therefore need to be aligned with the organization's goals, and progress needs to be review periodically in order to improve continuously.
I proposed the Balanced Scorecard framework as a conceptual framework for translating UNITECH's mission and objectives into a set of performance indicators. The main justification is that those young universities who have implemented the BSC have managed to ascend in the rankings much quicker than universities which did not.
How to find these lead indicators for the BSC? First a strategy needs to be based on the organization's mission, values, and vision. It is based on an idea of how to combine inner strengths (business focus) and outward value proposition (customer focus). It is a game plan, how to thrive and grow in a challenging and changing environment. It is not a vision, a list of intentions or wishes, or a any set key performance indicators (Rumelt 2011).
These selected indicators are subsequently distributed among four perspectives, which capture the key dimensions of the strategy (Kaplan and Norton 2007):
• financial (how do we look to the principal stakeholders?),
• customer (how do our students see us?),
• internal business processes (what processes must we excel at?), and
• innovation and learning (how can we continue to improve and create value?).
In a BSC framework, we distinguish diagnostic indicators, lead indicators and lag indicators. Diagnostic indicators provide information about the current state of the organization. The lead indicators are those that drive the proposed strategic change. The lag indicators provide information about the desired results. For research, for example, a set of indicators could be:
A- diagnostic indicators
- number of full-time Faculty with PhD
- number of PhD titles awarded
- number of Master degrees awarded
B- lead indicators
- number of months of mobilities in research collaborations
- grant funding
- corporate or contract research
C- lag indicators
- number of articles published in peer review media
- number of patents awarded
These indicators can be assigned to one of the 4 perspectives. For each of these indicators an annual target will be defined. In order for the UNITECH community to take ownership of a set of indicators, and thus of the strategy, the inclusion of some additional indicators and the setting of targets needs to be done in a workshop. Furthermore, the final set of indicators need to be checked for external and internal consistency. Are they aligned with the strategic goal and objectives? Will the set of indicators balance each other out so that too strong a focus on single indicator is avoided?
Regarding implementation, change can not be imposed from above on universities, as a recent episode of the dismissal and subsequent re-instatement of the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Virigina has shown. Most situations are in higher education organizations are alignment situations, where processes have to be aligned in order to reach strategic objectives efficiently and effectively. When however a consensus arises that change is necessary, a turn-around situation occurs. In those situations a opportunities arise to change the strategic course of an organization (Daly, Watkins, and Raevis 2006).
A BSC strategy management system can be used to measure progress towards strategic targets, and has been used by several young universities to advance substantially faster than they would otherwise. The choice of a balanced set of lead indicators is important, and is to some extent bottom-up. UNITECH will pioneer this effort, and share the results with the higher education sector in PNG. Each university, however, will need to select its own set of indicators reflecting its specific mission and state.
The necessary laboratory resources for simulation and experimentation are mostly lacking, and there is insufficient access to literature databases. Major investment is needed to remedy this, but in the mean time joint projects with foreign researchers can help out.
The state of PNG needs to create the basic infrastructure to do research, starting with broad band internet. broadband internet is essential for education, research, and business. The fibre optic cables are there, let's connect them! Internet will improve communication among researchers, and will make it easier to share resources with national and foreign researchers.
We need to better coordinate research effort in PNG and break the barriers for cooperation. In an hyper-connected world keeping information for yourself is not a viable tactic. Sharing knowledge after all is multiplying knowledge, and knowledge is power.
Producing valid and reliable knowledge through research, and the capacity to engage in life-long learning among our graduates will give us the proverbial long lever which can move the country towards its Vision 2050 goals.
List of References
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- Drucker, Peter. 2006. Managing the Non-Profit Organization. Harper Collins.
- Jo Ritzen. 2009. A Chance for European Universities. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
- Kaplan, Robert S., and David P. Norton. 1996. Balanced Scorecard. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press.
———. 2007. “Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System.” Harvard Business Review (July-August): 150-162.
- Landry, Réjean, Nabil Amara, and Mathieu Ouimet. 2007. “Determinants of Knowledge Transfer: Evidence from Canadian University Researchers in Natural Sciences and Engineering.” Journal of Technology Transfer 32: 561-592.
- Popper, Karl. 1986. Objective Knowledge : An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Rumelt, Richard. 2011. “The Perils of Bad Strategy.” McKinsey Quarterly (June).
- Schram, Albert. 2010. “The Social Responsibility of the University as Producer of New Knowledge.” In Proceedings of the World Universities Congress, Canakkale Onzekiz Mart University (Canakkale, Turkey 20-24 October 2010). Canakkale, Turkey.
- THE. 2012. “The 100 Under 50.” http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/Journals/THE/THE/31_May_2012/attachments/THE_100_Under_50_.pdf.