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Reyes Calderón Cuadrado, Professor of Corporate Governance and member of the committee Scientific Committee of congress BUR (Building Universities' Reputation).

The great virtuous circle

Wed, 13 May 2015 10:52:00 +0000 Published in The World

With grade from university entrance exam in hand, a student decides to go to college. A reasonable decision: the protection against unemployment and the opportunities for development provided by programs of study are enormous. He must choose college. If he chooses, as part of our student body, on the basis of proximity, he has no problem. If, knowing that he is part of a global world, he turns to the scarce but real scholarship and aid systems in search of the best university for his case, he is faced with a complex choice. He lacks experience and does not know the keys to his choice.

If you find someone knowledgeable, they will tell you to consider at least three factors. First, you must ensure that the university has institutional quality, which is not difficult to achieve. The processes of accreditation and verification to which universities are subjected detect strengths and weaknesses (more the latter than the former) and ensure quality standards. These standards, now prefixed at European level, and supervised by experts, have result been very beneficial in raising our institutional quality standards. But standards equalize, they do not discriminate. Therefore, to compare certified universities, the student will turn to the second factor: prominence. 

The countries around us have been placing student at the center of the Education Superior for years.
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Prominence provides a relative measure of the overall reputation of the university compared to others. It is a summary of the impressions that objective and influential stakeholders express about that university on key issues, such as research, international outreach, employment opportunities or etc. Where to find this data? If you have achieved an international scholarship , you will consult the rankings that list university institutions according to their prominence. If you stay at home, you will not find it so easy. Here we have made much more progress in raising the ground than in raising the cima and for that reason (and a bad communication policy) our presence in international rankings is scarce. Without this data, you will try to evaluate directly what is offered. It will interpret the signals about its technical attributes (knowledge; buildings; libraries; laboratories; internships; internships, etc.) that the university itself emits in conference open doors, webs, etc. As Education is made up of many intangibles, he will contact current students or graduates, and will ask them data about interpersonal relationships, skills fostered, interaction with academics, quality and concern of tutors, quality of internships, international agreements... If these experienced students recommend or advise against that university, he will already have a measure, imperfect but substantial, to support his decision. The process followed by this student is close to that followed by universities anywhere in the world. The quality of the Education Higher Education (HE) appears recurrently in the public diary because of its important social function -future innovation, talent and productivity depend a lot on it and because its abstract and complex nature makes it subject of discussion. There is unanimity on its multifaceted character, but not on which facets are the most important.

To produce HE, tangibles are used (buildings, libraries, doctors, staff of services, accredited degrees...) but also a whole collection of intangibles that are difficult to measure, which turn a university degree scroll into a unique life experience for the graduate, both as a person and as a professional. A good combination of both makes that university a reputable center, which competes by generating value for its students.

All Western countries are trying to improve the quality of their HE performance, but not all of them in the same way. While in recent times institutional performance has been prioritized and quality standards have been raised, in the current scenario of competition among universities for resources and student body, the focus has returned to its origin: the student, who is and should be our first stakeholder. And to whom we owe excellence, not standards. The countries around us, whose universities stand out in the rankings, have been emphasizing the centrality of the student in higher education for years, and have been focusing their quality strategies on this. Embedded in the reflection on the university's mission statement , its objectives and the choice of indicators that allow comparative evaluation of achievement, they do not disregard what has been achieved (accreditations and rankings continue to be vital) but give way to intangibles, the DNA of reputation. They analyze how the student who arrives with expectations, realistic or not, evaluates quality and the graduate, satisfaction. Thus the trinomial of expectations-perceived quality-satisfaction comes to the fore. These are latent variables, directly unobservable, and therefore impossible to measure per se, but all reputation theories indicate that we can access them indirectly through the observable result Complaints/Rejection and Loyalty/Recommendation.

Over time, the student's initial expectations are either disappointed or improved, both in their more technical and tangible aspects (quality), including value for money (perceived quality) and in their more global aspect, full of intangibles, that is, in their experience (satisfaction). Depending on your particular assessment , we can see your subjective grade : "I made the right decision", "I trust my university" or "I highly recommend it". What is behind this subjective grade ? Undoubtedly a reflective and shared process of the institution seeking a good reputation that is sustainable over time.

One of the clearest potentialities of this reputational quality approach , in my opinion, is that the improvement process benefits both the student and the university itself, which, by improving its governance systems and focusing on its stakeholders, ends up obtaining better scores in the rankings. The great virtuous circle.