(c) Das blaue Sofa / Club BertelsmannQuality – a key factor for international competitiveness

“How many people with a B.A. or M.A. qualification does a society need? Not a single one if their diploma is no more but a piece of paper whose pledges are not redeemed in form of a well-founded education, concrete competences and maturity by the person in question.”
(Jante Universitet, Vol. 3, episode “The Consequence of New Public Management: The Demise of Education”)

If you want to improve the quality and effectivness of work – education, research, administration – at your educational institution or at your private company, you can find expert help at the Østersø-Akademi / Akademie an der Steilküste. Here, you will find more information about the spectrum of our services in consulting, organizational analysis and strategic planning.

1. Quality – the Basic Need in Education and Work

New Public Management focuses on quantitative measures in its organization of education and other fields in the public sector. Quality under New Public Management is no more than a lip service, both in administration, in the qualification of management and the products the sector offers – in case of university, the academic education.
This is a fatal development, whose results can clearly be seen in Denmark: “When the students leave university, they get the shock of their life, since they realize that their education has no worth whatsoever,” as a journalist from the newspaper Politiken put it.

The key word is quality.

University is an institution of higher education, training young people to become both farseeing, critical members of society and excellent candidates for the job market. University education must be of top quality – otherwise it is a waste both of public resources and of the young people’s life time in their most receptive and creative years.

2. How to assess quality

However, quality as a key factor is also a problem – especially in a management system that builds on the disregard of quality and the suppression of critical thought.
In order to assess quality, you need experts with ample experience in the field they are to assess. This experience must not only be well-founded and penetrative, it must also be international: Quality is a factor that nowadays is determined by international competitiveness.

In order to assess quality you need experts. In the humanities, the quality criterion is even harder to assess, since the humanities only partly work with clear facts and fixed numbers as the natural sciences do. An expert assessing quality in humanistic education needs:

  • long-term experience as top researcher in at least one humanistic discipline
  • comprehensive knowledge of other disciplines and the cultural sector beyond university, that invariably interact with the discipline the expert primarily is qualified in
  • long-term experience in teaching in the humanities: both with regard to knowledge in the discipline and to effective working methods in research, writing and presentation
  • long-term experience in the interaction between academic disciplines and the public
  • long-term experience in the administration of humanistic education
  • international acknowledgement as researcher and communicator of knowledge

Experts with these qualifications will be able to assess quality – not only in their own discipline, but to a certain degree also in other humanistic disciplines: Once you yourself have learnt to offer top-quality according to international standards, you are able to assess the work that is being done not only in your own, but also in neighbouring fields.

It is experts of this calibre that universities need to survive.

3. First Steps in Securing Quality in Humanistic Education

Due to Danish mentality and the specific development of Danish universities since the 1970s (cf. the episode ” in vol. 3 of Jante Universitet), the criterion of quality has specifically hard conditions at Danish universities. In a society building on an ideology of absolute, all-encompassing equality, “elite” and “excellence” have become negative terms that must be avoided. This, however, is incompatible with the very meaning of higher education and international competitiveness.
At Danish universities, certain aspects of quality assurance that are the norm and very fundament at international universities have been renounced as early as in the late 60s and are up to today being denounced as “elitist”.

A basic problem is the so-called “indavl” (in-breeding): the custom that the academic staff is primarily recruited from one’s own, so that many staff members remain at the same university where they started as students for the rest of their life. There is no demand that associate professors and professors should have working experience at other universities, and certainly not beyond Denmark. International competition thus is unknown at many departments. It would be very easy to substantially boost the quality of education in the Danish humanities by introducing a few basic rules:

  1. Abolish the taxamenter system, by which universities receive the funding according to the number of students who pass their final exam. The taxameter system is a hallmark of planned economy. It is generally known that planned economy focuses on quantity at the expense of quality. Therefore the taxameter system forestalls high-quality education.
  2. Strict and demanding admission criteria. To produce graduates that are qualified for challenging jobs on the market, the humanities need excellent talents. Strict admission criteria such as, for instance, two foreign languages in addition to English would distinctly enhance the quality of the humanistic education.
  3. Associate professors and full professors that would stand the test in international competition. Higher demands to those who educate our students – what do those who already have the position of an associate or full professor in Denmark offer on their CV and their list of publications? Would they meet the standards in international competion? Every new associate professor who is hired at a Danish University should have had a position at a university outside Scandinavia first. Thus it could be ensured that the students will receive an education of international quality.
  4. Freedom of teaching. Top quality in education demands that the teacher can offer the very best. Today, university teachers in Denmark are forced to teach in disciplines they are not qualified in. This is a perversion of academic principles. Give them the freedom to teach in their fields of expertise.
  5. More courses. This does NOT cost more money, on the contrary. A full professor or associate professor in Germany has to teach 8-12 hours per week. Why not the same demands in Denmark?
    And if the principle of forced team teaching (fællesundervisning) finally is abolished in favor of more modern, quality-oriented models, where professors – associate and full – have the right to teach individually and in full sovereignty over their academic work, the universities will have an enormous potential of extra teaching hours at their disposal. The current potential can be tripled – with the same staff offering much more teaching hours.
  6. Curricula with a broad spectrum of courses and many diverse options to the students. Abolish the fixed curricula that bind teachers and students to a limited number of courses – devised by managers that know very little about the discipline. Curricula in the USA and Germany offer a broad spectrum with possibility for ample choice. The students can choose in which field within their discipline they want to go into depth with knowledge and competences. They thus can take their own responsibility for the contents of their education – and are not being cheated with programs that sell low quality wrapped in empty phrases.
  7. Assign the university management to academic experts. As long as the Ministry of Education listens to administrators and managers that have no idea about what academic education in international quality is, will the humanities in Denmark remain a Moloch that devours millions of public money and at the same time erodes the very foundation of Danish society – namely the education that assures a sound economy and international competitiveness.

Cf. Linda Maria Koldau’s article Hæv niveauet på humaniora in Berlingske Tidende (22 March, 2013).

4. The next steps

A university is a highly complex system with many interacting entities. The trilogy “Jante Universitet” offers comprehensive insights into the devastating problems that result when several entities – especially the management – do not work as they should. In order to restore the humanities to the standards they once had and thus to international reputation and competitiveness, a considerable number of sectors must be assessed and reformed.

Above you find a few basic steps how the quality of humanistic education could be enhanced.  You will need comparable steps to improve

  • the quality of management
  • the effectiveness of administration
  • the quality and productiveness of research
  • the pedagogical principles and strategies
  • the relation between the management and the academic staff

Overwhelming as this task may seem, it often needs just a few basic steps to introduce improvement. However, you will again need experts that have ample experience in the various sectors at a university and are familiar with international standards.

If you want to improve the quality and effectiveness of work – education, research, administration – at your educational institution, you can find expert help at the Østersø-Akademi / Akademie an der Steilküste. Here, you will find more information about the spectrum of our services in consulting, organizational analysis and strategic planning.


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