University and a four armed strategy model?

The Finnish Ministry of Education has been pressuring universities to profile their research work: focus on their strengths and give up on their weaknesses. A bigger investment to a single discipline has more impact than the same investment to two smaller focus areas. This is how it goes – at least on the short term.

On the long term focusing only on existing strengths is not enough on the scientific world that is constantly developing further. If the research community had kept it’s focus on theology and philosophy, the University of Jyväskylä based on educational research would not have been founded.

Based on organizational research the long-term best achievers are ambidextrous organizations that at the same time develop their strengths and look for new opportunities and openings. Even so that success in new openings is more likely to happen in a unit that focuses solely on new ideas than within a larger organization that has established ways of working and processes. This seems to be true also in the large corporations that we have done research on. The question is how much will be invested in maintaining the existing expertise and how much on creating new things.

In the context of current disciplines the new openings are found at the intersection of disciplines in new interdisciplinary combinations. Especially in tight pressures for results the unit has a tendency to focus on optimization of internal processes instead of seeking new openings externally. Instead of cooperation of business units the internal competition is enhanced. On the other hand the strength of our interdisciplinary university is a vast amount of intersections, where new openings can be found both within and between the faculties. This is a strength that should not be left unattended.

In terms of the four arms of strategy for university I propose that one is the optimization of current practices, second is generating new interdisciplinary openings, third and fourth arms could be research and education based societal impact based upon which the university earns it’s place as part of the modern society and on the long run will support the sustainability of the university as an organization.

–21.1.2015 Pasi Tyrväinen, professor, Director of the Agora Center.

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