Dispatch from #APAC2017: Ideas to Reshape Higher Ed Narratives

The CASE Asia-Pacific Advancement Conference just concluded. Our Currents interim editor in chief Toni Coleman sent this report from Singapore.

To mark the 10th birthday of CASE’s Asia-Pacific office, CASE gathered 10 global higher education leaders in Singapore to share their big ideas for how higher education can thrive amid the unprecedented challenges facing the sector.

Leaders spent the morning of Thursday, April 27, at the National University of Singapore brainstorming 10 ideas to address the challenges, which they presented hours later at the closing plenary of the CASE Asia-Pacific Advancement Conference.

A common thread among the discussions was the notion that higher education has done a poor job of communicating a narrative about the impact of its work. We live in a “post-truth world” where universities are not to be trusted and experts are not to be believed, said one leader.

Higher education is being politicized and defined through a counter-narrative in which academics are pursuing useless research and students are out of control. The lack of a cohesive story about the sector’s work in solving societal problems makes it difficult to make the case for government funding.

What are some ideas to address this?

  1. Advancement needs to partner with both internal and external constituents. “Advancement is a team sport. We need to grow our teams to be effective,” said James H. Moore Jr., president and CEO of the University of Illinois Foundation. “We think about informing and engaging donors and alumni, but it’s important to engage faculty and staff. They need a common and deep understanding of what our institutions stand for and why we’re relevant to dispel the notion that we live in ivory towers. We need to develop strategies to inform, educate and mobilize faculty and students.”
  2. Share higher education’s work more broadly. Public safety and K-12 constituencies are among the groups that have the ear of policymakers who control public coffers. Higher education has few government friends and allies, and funding is a hard sell when the majority of people in many locales will not earn a university degree. Institutions need to speak to communities impacted by but “not as directly involved in our work,” said J. Michael Goodwin, president and CEO of the Oregon State University Foundation. Or, as Peter Mathieson, president of the University of Hong Kong and chair of the CASE Asia-Pacific board, put it: “Preach to the unconverted.”
  3. Advancement functions should be better integrated. “Whatever you’re doing in advancement, it’s critical we align our messages and we work together,” said Tricia King, CASE’s vice president of global engagement. “Statements should be consistent, no matter who they hear it from.”
  4. Create and share higher ed’s story. Referencing MOOCs and other technological efforts to disrupt higher education, Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor and principal of The University of Melbourne, warned that, “We have a group of people arguing they can do what we do at a fraction of the costs. We need a narrative—why students and the world are better off because of what we offer.”

The 10th annual APAC has wrapped up but conversations about how higher education and advancement need to evolve will continue this summer. A video from the brainstorming symposium debuted at APAC and is slated to be shown at the CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement in San Francisco and at the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Birmingham, UK.

Toni Coleman is interim editor in chief of Currents magazine at CASE.

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