GlobalHigherEd has carried quite a few entries on benchmarking practices in the higher education sector over the past few month – the ‘world class’ university, the OECD innovation scoreboards, the World Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology, Programme of International Student Assessment, and so on.
University World News this week have just reported on an interesting new development in international benchmarking practices – at least for the UK – suggesting, too, that the benchmarking machinery/industry is itself big business and likely to grow.
According to the University World News, the International Graduate Insight Group (or i-graduate) last week unveiled a study in the UK to:
…compare the expectations and actual experiences of both British and foreign students at all levels of higher education across the country. The Welsh Student Barometer will gather the opinions of up to 60,000 students across 10 Welsh universities and colleges. i-graduate will benchmark the results of the survey so that each university can see how its ability to match student expectations with other groupings of institutions, not only in Wales but also the rest of the world.
i-graduate markets itself as:
an independent benchmarking and research service, delivering comparative insights for the education sector worldwide: your finger on the pulse of student and stakeholder opinion.
We deliver an advanced range of dedicated market research and consultancy services for the education sector. The i-graduate network brings international insight, risk assessment and reassurance across strategy and planning, recruitment, delivery and relationship management.
i-graduate have clearly been busy amassing information on ‘the international student experience’. It has collected responses from more than 100,000 students from over 90 countries by its International Student Barometer (ISB)- which they describe as the first truly global benchmark of the student experience. This information is packaged up (for a price) in multiple ways for different audiences, including leading UK universities. According to -i-graduate, the ISB is:
a risk management tool, enabling you to track expectations against the experiences of international students. The ISB isolates the key drivers of international student satisfaction and establishes the relative importance of each – as seen through the eyes of your students. The insight will tell you how expectations and experience affect their loyalty, their likelihood to endorse and the extent to which they would actively encourage or deter others.
Indexes like this, either providing information about one’s location in the hierarchy or as strategic information on brand loyalty, acts as a kind of disciplining and directing practice.
Those firms producing these indexes and barometers, like i-graduate, are also in reality packaging particular kinds of ‘knowledge’ about the sector and selling in the sector. In a recent seminar ESRC-funded seminar series on Changing Cultures of Competitiveness, Dr. Ngai-Ling Sum described these firms as brokering a ‘knowledge brand’ – a trade-marked, for a price, bundle of strategies/tools and insights intended to alter an individual’s, institution’s or nation’s practices, in turn leading to greater competitiveness – a phenomenon she tags to practices that are involved in producing the Knowledge-Based Economy (KBE).
It will be interesting to look more closely at, and report in a future blog on, what the barometer is measuring. For it is the specific socio-economic and political content of these indexes and barometers, as well as the disciplining and directing practices involved, which are important for understanding the direction of global higher education.