Keeping High Standards in Higher Education

In a knowledge management context, higher education and standardisation have a number of similarities. Both a university and a national standards body (NSB) should be seen as vital resources to the national economy; houses of creation for the country’s social knowledge. Economically, their activities bring £59bn (UUK, 2010) and £2.5bn (Swann, 2010) to the UK … Continued
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In a knowledge management context, higher education and standardisation have a number of similarities. Both a university and a national standards body (NSB) should be seen as vital resources to the national economy; houses of creation for the country’s social knowledge. Economically, their activities bring £59bn (UUK, 2010) and £2.5bn (Swann, 2010) to the UK GDP. Socially their values could be considered much higher; giving guidance, codes of practice and specifications that can protect consumers whilst increasing business efficiency. With this in mind, the question has to be asked: why aren’t universities and standards bodies working closer together and how could they benefit each other?

My role at British Standards Institution (BSI), the UK’s NSB, is tasked with finding answers to those questions. The first thing that we made clear to ourselves was that BSI is not seeking to standardise the sector. It is vital that autonomy continues to be the prime importance for HEIs; as Buchbinder stated:

“A key ingredient in the production and transmission of social knowledge is autonomy; autonomy of the academic worker and autonomy of the academic institution.” (Buchbinder, 1993)

Instead, BSI is looking to collaborate and seek shared solutions which benefit both sides, identifying a few key areas where this could possibly occur.

Teaching

A 2002 paper outlined the ideal teaching model for standardisation. This research noticed that,

“Many people that get involved in standardisation in their professional life lack the (standardisation) education that would enable them to carry on that task in a professional way. In general, neither regular nor continuing education pays attention to standardisation in a systematic way, though there are exceptions, especially in some special technical areas.” (de Vries, 2002)

De Vries listed a number of areas where standardisation could be taught and documented the reasons why such teaching could be beneficial.

I’ve discovered that some degree modules already include standards; however they are mostly referred to, rather than studied, with the onus on the student to discover more through further reading.

I’m hoping to work with academics and HEIs to resolve these issues, providing the resources needed to ensure students get the best possible education on standardisation, not just the standards themselves. I believe it is more important that standards documents are contextualised and presented in a way that clearly defines a link to the subject but also asks the students to critically evaluate the standards, the process by which they were written and the role standardisation plays in their area of study.

As we move towards the higher education market, standardisation education could be one area that HEIs can improve their students’ education experience and employment capabilities with little to no negative effect to their financial resources. Many universities already have access to the standards database, BS Online, but awareness of this access is surprisingly low. Increased awareness of this, coupled with an increase in more diverse resources could lead to a far stronger pedagogical experience, one which I’m always open to working with faculties to achieve.

China benefits annually from 1,200-1,500 graduates emerging from the country’s HEIs and moving quickly onto the international standardisation stage. (Mosch, 2007). Regardless of the marketable benefits for universities when teaching standardisation effectively, if proposals regarding the diversification of our economy are to bear any fruit, then surely there is also a socio-economic advantage to standardisation becoming an integrated element in many curriculums?

HEI Management

I was careful to note earlier that I do not wish to standardize HEIs and that will always stand. That said, there are ways that standards can benefit universities as budgets are cut, to protect frontline services and, more importantly, to enhance the student experience. Compliance with a number of regular business best practices can bring savings to a university, like LG Electronics India’s reduction in energy consumption by 22% through using BS EN 16001 – Energy Management Systems, or Amba research who reduced information security costs by 33% using BS ISO/IEC 27000 – Information Management Systems. There’s a range of standards which could help the institution work more efficiently and save costs which can be diverted back towards the student experience. BS 25999 – Business Continuity, could prove to be vital in an uncertain environment, be it financially so or due to snow.

There is even more scope for universities to hold suppliers to standards as a method of protecting their students interests and giving the institution a benchmark against which it can measure performance. There are a number of web and construction accessibility standards for larger scale projects and service standards in areas like estate agency for outsourced or affiliate services. There is even a European committee which writes standards for educational furniture.

The Future of HE and Standardisation

These are merely a few of many possibilities, where standards and education can work together-I haven’t even touched on research possibilities! HEIs have the opportunity to be teachers, users and-be it physically on our committees or through online resources-creators of standards. Key to any initiative succeeding is that both our sectors collaborate. Both create social and market knowledge for the country and so a strong mutual relationship can benefit BSI, the higher education sector and the state.

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