dr-gillian-evans-001An article in the March 26 Guardian (UK) questions the value of higher education consultants. Professor Emeritus Gillian Evans, the author, is not a big fan. Her problems with consultants include:

  • No way to review the research produced by the consultants in advance of hiring them.
  • The quality of the work is poor.
  • No experience working in higher education, either as faculty or management.

Essentially, this opinion piece argues that consultants should ‘stay out’ of academia because “they” don’t know how “we” operate. Not an original message, to be sure. However, higher education desperately needs new thinking and I believe that good consultants can play an important role in bringing about needed change. Nevertheless, the author’s argument that consultants often know very little about how universities work reflects my own experiences.

In my management role in university I’ve sat across the table from many management consultants seeking an engagement. Indeed, surprisingly few had direct experience managing or teaching in higher education. I suspect this happens more often with educational technology. Consultants and vendors that deal in educational technology for the corporate training and professional development markets often assume that the solutions they offer will translate into the higher education space. This is often not the case. Tthe economics and organizational models in online higher education are very different from other types of organizations.

Of course, there are many types of management knowledge and experience that work across different industries. But I’m not sure that this generic management talent is sufficient. Ideally, I want help from people that have dealt with the same obstacles I am facing. I want them to know (better than I do, preferably), the best ways to get things done in my field. Generic management talent is simply the price of admission for good consultants; I also want a higher education expert. Am I asking too much?