Future of the Universities: A Big Room for Improvement

As a Ph.D. student who has 5 years of teaching and research experience in two higher ed institutions, I would like to mention a problem that I observed, which is challenging for both researchers and the institution: Expectation Alignment.

Research institutions want to make themselves better with higher rankings. This is possible with more research output with higher quality and quantity, good teaching quality and good training. Obviously, the #1 requirement for this is funding. They provide deans and chairs with money that could be spent serving this purpose. At this point, a strategic decision-making problem is faced which is very similar to the portfolio optimization problem. How to invest? At this point, the administration has to make a decision to allocate money to the options (including, but not limited to) below:

  • Recruiting faculty members with high research output
  • Provide more funding to faculty
  • Recruiting more Ph.D. Students or researchers to increase research output
  • Recruit teaching faculty to increase quality, and to be able to accept more undergraduate students to raise more funds

The options I provided are only related to financial decisions, but there is one thing that should be done regardless: motivation. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is something comes from inside while extrinsic motivation is the primary one that could be changed. Therefore, a good strategy for the administration is to increase the extrinsic motivation of the students and faculty. The most straightforward way for an administration to do so is by increasing the expectations from the employees and promising more in return. This is supposed to help attaining the main goal since better rankings will help both the institution and the researchers. However, this is also a very dangerous thing to do from a human behavior perspective – and the danger is called Expectation Alignment Disorder (EAD). EAD is dangerous for all organizations – for both employers and employees. When expectations from the employees do not align with the experience, employees lose their motivation towards work, feel like failures; in short, they lose their satisfaction. Employers lose employee engagement. And the work quality of the organization decreases.

All researchers probably hear about the phrase Publish or Perish at least once in their lives – it is so well-known that it could even be considered as a cheesy phrase. However, there is something deeper than just a cheesy phrase. Getting back to our higher ed context, EAD translates into researchers who feel discouraged and unsuccessful – a recipe for lower performance than ever before. As a Ph.D. student, I might be biased, but I think Ph.D. students are the ones to suffer the most since Ph.D. itself is a challenging journey. In fact, there is an issue of Nature about publication pressure and Ph.D. students (PhDs under publication pressure).

In the future, universities should be more aware of this, and should follow a few simple strategies to provide a better environment to the researchers while moving forward (strategies are adapted from here.)

  • Temperature-taking.¬†Administration should check how Ph.D. students and the faculty members feel about their work and their responsibilities, and they check it in a regular basis.
  • Cross-check. The administration should be clear and stable about their expectations, and should try to understand researchers’ expectations, and analyze gray areas and/or misalignments.
  • Cultural Pruning. Administration should understand that unrealistic expectations should not be a part of the organization’s culture. It should be eliminated from the organization’s culture if this is the case.
  • Intentional Language. The administration should avoid scaring the researchers by using accusatory or threatening language (regardless of being explicit or implicit), and eliminate these elements during the communication if it exists. Instead, they should support researchers and provide assistance and guidance that is needed to fulfill expectations.