Detlef Müller-Böling conducted his final symposium in Berlin as head of the CHE – Centre for Higher Education Development,. After more than a decade of “counting, measuring, estimating”, the question asked was whether this was “a blessing or a curse” for German higher education.
As early as 1993, a project by the German Rectors` Conference (HRK) had looked for indicators suitable for measuring performance in higher education. Even then, it was clear, that reliable and significant data are necessary to make sensible decisions. It was from this project that the CHE Ranking emerged. According to Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of the Lumina Foundation for Education in Indianapolis, the CHE Ranking is among the best in the world with respect to the methods applied. The transparency of the data acquisition procedure and the relevance of the indicators are crucial. Since then, 24 countries have started compiling rankings, a fact that emphasises the increasing importance of this instrument. All rankings are ”work in progress“, which means that they must be continuously improved. Against this background, standards for rankings have been drawn up and published as the ”Berlin Principles“ by the International Ranking Experts Group (IREG).
“Rankings must always take target groups into consideration”, said CHE ranking Gero Federkeil. ”If we want to compare study conditions for the purpose of offering direction to school leavers, we must not use the same results for decision-making guidance for the allocation of funds at higher education institutions.” The audience discussion also covered the issue of the unintentional effects of rankings and the influence exerted by rankings. Dr. Barbara Ischinger, director of the OECD directorate for education, presented a project for the measurement of “learning outcomes”. For the time being, it is planned to develop indicators that are comparable on international level and which can show the growth in competence from beginning to end of a bachelor study programme.
Do higher education institutions suffer from over-evaluation and over-accreditation, i.e. too much bureaucracy caused by an overflow of quality management in research and teaching? The discussion round conducted by CHE expert Sigrun Nickel agreed that quality development includes more than the mere collection of performance figures It is important rather to bring together researchers, student, administrative staff and managing heads. One of the main effects of the excellence initiative, therefore, is boost to motivation. The research quality of German higher education will increase, predicted Gerhart von Graevenitz, rector of the elite university Konstanz. The quality in teaching and studies has not developed quite as well, said HRK president Margret Wintermantel. Apart from massive under-funding, higher education institutions are heavily burdened with accreditation procedures. Nevertheless, external quality control is necessary, said Christine Scholz from the European Students’ Union (ESU), even if an accreditation seal is rarely of importance to students.
Whether there are better instruments for steering higher education institutions, and if so which ones, has been a matter of discussion for more than 15 years. “All the necessary instruments are already in existence, we just have to be more courageous and use them,” said Ludwig Kronthaler, former chancellor of the TU München, a comment the audience acknowledged with applause. This refers mainly to the setting of stimuli. Frank Ziegele, future CHE manager, identified the following success factors: transparency, simplicity and consistency of the management concept of the higher education institution.
Prerequisite for successful steering in higher education is to avoid data graveyards. “Data have to be accessible to all the relevant managers; they must not represent knowledge for the few,” said Ulrike Gutheil, chancellor of the TU Berlin, which is equipped with a relevant IT system. Efficient and effective steering of higher education institutions is restricted by central government, however. For this reason, it is even more important that the allocation of funds is structured in such a way that institutions have sufficient freedom in terms of how to use them, says Prof. Johanna Wanka, Minister for Science, Research and Culture of the Land Brandenburg, which has had its budgeting model assessed and received good feedback from higher education representatives. After all, all steering instruments are useless if managers do not use them appropriately. On this point, participants in the discussion agreed that there is a considerable need for a more professional approach.
In the final panel discussion, Christian Berthold, CHE Consult manager, asked about the future role of higher education institutions. According to Rudolf Stichweh, a sociologist from the Universität Luzern, universities today have the social responsibility to guarantee the necessary higher number of educated young academics and to address all levels of society to a greater extent. Peter Englert, former chancellor of the University of Hawaii, put forward a clear argument against quota provisions for minorities and explained how mentoring programmes at his university reached an increasing share of Maori students. Ossi V. Lindquist, former Chairman of the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council, emphasised that modern higher education systems are no longer homogeneous systems but heterogeneous with respect to students and teachers. ”Massification” means increasing diversity and requires interdisciplinary approaches and a permeable system. He asked the question: “Are modern rankings and evaluations appropriate in terms of meeting the many diverse challenges of higher education institutions in the future?” A summary of the session concluded that higher education institutions are more than what is counted.
Many former colleagues used the evening reception held on 19 June to mark the farewell of Detlef Müller-Böling as head of CHE at the end of July as a platform to emphasise and appreciate his merits in a less formal atmosphere. Gunter Thielen, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann foundation executive board, expressed thanks to Müller-Böling on behalf of the Bertelsmann foundation for his work while Margret Wintermantel referred to joint projects with the HRK. Müller-Böling’s considerable ability to tolerate frustration shows a “certain cognitive weakness for the destructive ability of humans,” said the psychologist Wintermantel with a wink in front of 250 guests.
Special appreciation of Müller-Böling was shown by the TU München. On behalf of the higher education council and university managers, president Wolfgang A. Herrmann awarded Müller-Böling with a ”Goldener Ehrenring“ (a golden ring of honour) from the university. In his farewell speech, Müller-Böling reminded guests of the more or less flattering comparisons he received as head of the CHE, from ”sorcerer’s apprentice“ to ”enfant terrible of the higher education system“. Müller-Böling turns 60 in July and he will hand on management of the CHE to Frank Ziegele and Jörg Dräger in August. His guests said that they did not expect him to withdraw fully into private life, however.
Standing ovations for Prof. Detlef Müller-Böling (Fotos: David Ausserhofer)