Multi-level, Interdisciplinary, Comparative, Innovative Research on Higher Education


The International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM) is one of the internationally most visible and recognized British research centres on Higher Education. It aims at generating innovative and alternative strategies for higher education systems. Therefore, it puts an emphasis on interdisciplinary research and international integration.

Prof. Dr. Rajani Naidoo is Professor of Higher Education Management and Director of the ICHEM. Her main research interests include Public sector markets and new public management; trans-national higher education and global governance as well as academic profession and students as consumers of higher education.

WiHo-Editors: How would you describe the mission of your institution?

Rajani Naidoo: ICHEM is a major research centre established in 1994 at the University of Bath. We are part of the School of Management, a leading Business School which provides a rich interdisciplinary base and distinctive identity. ICHEM brings together world class interdisciplinary scholars and prestigious visiting professors with students from more than 25 countries on our DBA and PhD in Higher Education Management. Our research is multi-level and comparative. We build theoretical advances and empirical knowledge to strengthen the innovative capacity of higher education. We challenge taken for granted assumptions and develop alternative strategies for sustainable higher education systems contributing to global wellbeing.

WiHo-Editors: Which ICHEM projects are most important and relevant in the international context?

Rajani Naidoo: ICHEM has been successful in a number of grant applications including to the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC), the European Commission, the Leadership Foundation, the British Council and the Higher Education Academy. Current projects include work on the competition fetish: how traditional forms of academic competition for scientific prestige interact with market competition, government sponsored excellence contents and status competitions such as rankings and with what effect on quality, equity and the public good. Research supported by the European Commission has focussed on MOOCS and open learning, and a number of of British Council funded projects on international partnerships in higher education. Most recently ICHEM has joined the ESRC Centre for Global Higher Education and heads a project on university governance in continental Europe with a comparative perspective on the UK while also project focusses on access and success in South African higher education. A recent major ESRC-funded project focusses on the relationship between educational management and performance and is undertaken with partners in India and Nepal.

WiHo-Editors: What are the main topics that research should address in the next years within the area of Higher Education from your point of view?

Rajani Naidoo: More research is needed that is multi-level, interdisciplinary and comparative. Such research should continue to focus on the Anglo-Saxon world, China and powerful national systems in Western Europe, but we need to extend this to the successes of systems that are less visible. We could build on the following topics and, in the best case, bring them together to better understand and conceptualise  developments in higher education:

  • The impact of global political, social and economic forces on higher education;
  • The specific dynamics within national systems of higher education and their embeddedness within national and regional contexts, ideas, and practices;
  • Dynamics of organisational change and innovation in universities as organisations;
  • Their interactions with and implications for the internal and external stakeholders in higher education;
  • And the contribution of higher education to societal and global well-being.

WiHo-Editors: Which are the main topics of research on Higher Education that should be addressed using international cooperation/comparison?

Rajani Naidoo: Researchers can make very valuable contributions to a research agenda like the one above. They call, however, for international cooperation to create critical mass, to inform the conceptual debate by international and interdisciplinary perspectives, and to enrich the methodological apparatus by cross-national comparative perspectives. Most importantly, they call for researchers to look beyond the usual dominant models of higher education highlighted by ranking and identify important innovations occurring is less visible systems and countries.

WiHo-Editors: If you had one free wish for the next budget negotiations, what would you opt for?

Rajani Naidoo: Many English universities are known for their increasing levels of bureaucracy while providing little direct administrative support for academics. This is partly due to the combination of marketization and new public management reforms and rising levels of managerialism within universities. I would opt for administrative support to free up time and energy for academic research, teaching and service.

WiHo-Editors: What are the main and most recent trends in the higher education system in your country? How would you explain these phenomena as a researcher in the area?

Rajani Naidoo: There are two recent trends I would like to highlight. First we see the rise of what I refer to as the competition fetish. Many varieties of competition have been unleashed on the sector including excellence contests sponsored by government, neo-liberal market competition and status wars intensified by rankings. It is important to recognize the positive effects and the negative consequences and to find ways to balance these pressures. The second trend is accountability by metrification. There are policies to measure, evaluate, reward and punish institutions on various forms of metrics. While accountability and improving quality are essential, it is important to ensure that the metrics measure what they purport to measure and do not result in perverse or unintended consequences.