Value and supply chain in higher education: an interactive qualitative analysis of chain links

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Vol.6, No.7, pp.51-94,






Abstract This paper evaluates higher education supply and demand relationships by a value and supply chains model. Through three focus groups and a system for interactive qualitative analysis (SIQA), the proposed model was validated, noticing frictions due to missing linkages in practice, despite being a key issue for all informants.

Keywords: Value chain, Supply demand, Higher education

Introduction Higher education (HE) in Honduras may be modeled using concepts of value and supply chains, in search of improvement in HE operations, in HE demanders’ satisfaction, in results of quality and outsourcing processes, etc. Furthermore, the study of both kinds of chains may be of predominant need because of many reasons, among them (Habib & Jungthirapanich, 2010): 1) current significance in services; 2) general tendency to globalization (especially supply and production); 3) competitive pressures and focus on innovation as part of global strategy; 4) tendency in management research (e.g. evolution in management models for initiatives that increase/improve HE services to society); and 5) for the demanders themselves in the chains and the complexity in the environment. Many universities, especially at the international level, get to focus mainly in teaching/learning and researching models of value and/or supply chain, which may improve production, operations and business in general. However, very few of such universities (none in Honduras) do their own academic activities around the HE value and/or supply chain, regardless that such chains represent international concepts, with uninform dimensions at the global level that may be applied in HE (Habib & Jungthirapanich, 2008). Thus, research must focus not only on demand (value chain), in order to achieve a forward integration (output of finished HE results), but also on elements belonging to supply (traditional perspective of HE logistics), which allows for a backward integration (supply chain), improving the entry process of HE inputs. Both views are needed so that 2 the HE operates as a unique value and supply system of production of services, with a balanced integration of the value and supply chain, with its input providers (supply side or input) and demanders/beneficiaries (demand side or output). However, as in any service industry, HE not the exception, with a production and operations process, there is friction, seen as an opposition on the current supply flow. In a production and operations process, every link between any two connections would present friction, defined by a state of opposition between persons, material, ideas or interests. Thus, friction may be zero if and only if such process is perfect or efficient. Furthermore, if there is friction then waste exists. On the other side, if the process is not effective then leaks may also happen. On the other hand, an effective value chain must generate benefits, considering at least three focal points: 1) value chain process; 2) chain information flow; and 3) benefits granted to its demanders. Furthermore, an efficient supply chain should reduce its operating costs that include waste (Feller et al., 2006). Although there are many ways to analyze production and operations processes, this paper chooses to tests if there are frictions in the higher education chain, by identifying bottlenecks. For this, there is need of a cross research of the HE process, by collecting and examining information from its key demanders about possible existing link frictions within the value and supply chain of higher education. The structure of this paper thus continues with a review of conceptual framework. The methodology is next presented. Then, this paper presents results from a model of value and supply chains, setting out some conclusions and final considerations, pointing out a future research to follow up.

Conceptual framework Considering production and operations management, two main HE services (i.e. teaching and research) may be best defined as part of a HE supply chain (HESC). On one side, there are direct and indirect services in order to process inputs such as secondary education (SE) graduates, HE graduate students, etc.). Direct services may include design and development, source and selection, academic and non-academic formation, practical and vocational formation, postgraduate formation, result assessment, development of continuing education (throughout life), workshops, training, instructions, etc. Indirect services may be campus improvement and maintenance, IT infrastructure, university dorm supply, access clearance to facilities and information (hard & soft), libraries, bookstores, security, cafeterias, sport facilities, etc. (Lau, 2007). In order to assure quality according to society demand for HE, a HESC would require customized processes for each student. Nevertheless, since every student is different and no higher education institution (HEI) could set up an individual process of HESC, in the critical design and development of every student, HE must assign an academic tutor who oversees the process of student development through the HESC (Habib & Jungthirapanich, 2010). On the other side, research, almost always expensive and long term, requires a customized, proactive and reactive HESC in order to satisfy the demand (e.g. users). Firstly, the HESC must manage the communication to professionals and facilities in a university to prevent duplicities when focus in on a basic research, which needs to develop observations from surveys with relevant data. Secondly, when there is need to 3 develop some system and/or technology for a certain industry, the HESC must look not only for suitable players (e.g. applied research professionals) for also for facilities, so that together it may be possible to carry out a more efficient and effective research (Habib & Jungthirapanich, 2010). Along and parallel (opposite direction) to both previous HESCs (teaching and research), there is an integrated HE need of other customized, proactive and reactive process, in order to get feedback satisfaction levels from demanders and society for the perceived value from HE results of present services, in all possible geographical levels: local, regional, national and international. This process requires links to society demands within a HE value chain (HEVC) and may be considered either a third fundamental service, or an integral part to both teaching and research. The idea of this third service is that allows monitoring the added value by HE processes, from the initial condition of HE inputs until reception of HE results for HE demanders and society, assessing the quantity of HE added value. Hence, the HEVC must build a HE-society link that takes such feedback to improve the services of the two HESC (teaching and research) and relationship levels, correcting present situations or developing other alternatives, according to needs. On top of this, such link by HEVC must promote present services as part of both HESC, and the development of new services within the same both HESC, by means of a value flow from society to other players involved in HE (e.g. other demanders of HE results, HEIs, HE input providers, etc.). However, in order to have a complete view, such flow must go beyond a unidirectional value flow by a HEVC (demand to supply), by integrating the supply flow form the other direction by a HESC (supply to demand), which results in a HE value and supply integrated system (HEVSIS), whose flow is therefore bidirectional. In such flow of a HEVSIS process, universities must work in designing curriculums in close collaboration with different entities such as high schools, technological institutes, present HE students, university faculty and other personnel, employers of their professionals, users of their research/projects, collaborators, etc., in order to assure need satisfaction of all participants in a HEVSIS (Heskett, 1964). Besides, the HEVSIS must have a vision guided by HE users (i.e. demand of HE results), which may produce a number of competitive advantages to the HE, by helping to improve productivity and user satisfaction, and to produce results of quality. Every day, it is being recognized, as part of a HE quality management, the potential benefits of associating final results to input providers (Habib & Jungthirapanich, 2010). All of the above requires a systemic view of the conceptual framework of a HEVSIS, formulated multilevel and bidirectional. Being holistic, the system needs of all involved players in order to obtain the final results. Therefore, this paper sets out seven significant components for the HEVSIS proposed model: inputs, HE process (fundamental functions and supportive activities, three types of results (primary, secondary and tertiary) and a systematic society link to both, input and process. Such integrated model of the system must fulfill better the requirements of the two types of users (demand): 1) intermediate demanders (professionals, instructed graduates, and research results), and 2) final demanders (society, employers, sectors of projects of research, development and innovation (RD&I) executed/implemented).


Research setting The empirical evidence used to test the propositions was taken from three focus groups (Hamui-Sutton & Varela Ruiz, 2013). Surveyed institutions were considered as part of any of the four links in the proposed higher education value and supply integrated system (HEVSIS). Following the flow of the supply chain (from supply to demand), the first link (1) is the HE input provider, represented by people from the following organizations: National Secondary Education Secretary, Treasure Secretary, Science and Technology Secretary, National Vocational Training Center, education quality supervisors, private research organizations, scholarship foundations, secondary students’ family associations. The second link (2) has the HE supplier, represented for private and public HE institutions (HEI) with high number of students. The third link (3) represents the intermediate demander in the HEVSIS, i.e. first HE beneficiary or user of HE results: National intellectual property Office, professional associations, higher education family associations, scholarship foundations, private and public research centers. The last link (4) is the last/final demander and includes the labor market, entrepreneurship groups and organizations: National Labor Secretary, banking and entrepreneurship associations, production and service sectors (selected by productions rate). The three main functions were conceptualized and defined as multidimensional constructs. Each dimension represents one facet of these broad constructs and all pertinent dimensions together define a main HE function as a whole ( Figure 2).


Three duel focus group sessions were used to collect the information. This kind of focus group is a technique to capture qualitative information, requiring two moderators, who present a sequence of conflicting proposals about the relations of the informants. Each moderator takes a different perspective and seeks to defend the position of his assigned link; likewise, he tries to blame the next link assigned to his fellow moderator, in order to create controversy and discord among the participants, enriching the study with belligerent and defensive arguments, in relation to the proposal/perspective. Thus, groups of representatives between adjacent links (1-2, 2-3, 3-4) are confronted in the flow of the HE supply chain (supply to demand). The purpose of this was to identify frictions and divergence between them, assessing their relationships and categorize them, by analyzing the comments that were collected. There are three sub-stages part of such qualitative research methodology: 1. Identification of the current higher education process, as well as an introduction to the subject to try to include topics that generate discussion about relationships between 6 two bordering links. 2. Confrontation, centered on the higher education, between the key players in one link against the players of the neighboring link in the higher education chain. This sub stage was used to identify differences and incompatibilities between them and to analyze how linking is done (e.g. backward, bidirectional, or forward). This is done by several questions challenging current operations management of both links, thus evaluating the efficiency (supply) and effectiveness (value). 3. Knowledge gathering on common ground on the operations management, in order to model or parameterize input flows from the analysis of both links, taking convergence points for elements that both agree upon, as potential optimal points for the value chain and supply chains. The disagreement points generate frictions. If both links have implemented the same or similar process for the same operation, it means waste.


Method of analysis: system for qualitative analysis (SIQA) Qualitative research has increased in the last decade, predominantly in social sciences; proof of this is the increasing number of high impact scientific journals publishing qualitative research and the introduction of qualitative research courses as part of many research post-degree programs (García, 2012). This rise of the qualitative paradigm has generated a development of supporting software for researchers, both to gather a greater quantity and variety of data and the analysis thereof. On the other hand, although the adoption of new information and communication technology of (NICT) in scientific research has followed a smaller trend, especially in social sciences, its widespread application in the near future, although ambitious, may be feasible, since the use of technology in research has been driving scientific changes and NICTs have been consolidated into tools supporting different disciplines (Meyer et al., 2008). In this sense, Colas (2012) states that NICTS are contributing to an accelerated transformation of the scientific culture, generating a visible impact in qualitative research. Despite the existence of a great variety of software for management and analysis of qualitative data, there was not a program on the market that fulfilled all the requirements for the HEVSIS, so it was necessary to develop an ad-hoc system for interactive qualitative analysis (SIQA), created at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (IIES), due to the need to get perceptions from experts of the four links in the higher education chains in relation to different aspects framed in HEVSIS, and thus be able to identify and analyze the relationships, common points and frictions that exist at all levels of the Honduran higher education system. This software of collecting and analyzing qualitative data, currently being patented and programmed in Java with the NetBeans IDE 7.2 compiler, possesses a multiuser platform with different access’s levels and configurations, three management and data analysis modules, a statistical module and the flexibility to operate under any wired or wireless computer network (Figure 3). The modules, part of it, are explained next. Sign Up / Log in: In this module each user is identified by an alphanumeric login and password. There are also professional and personal user information and access levels. Storage: It stores all information for each session and each user locally (on the computer that is installed). Then, all computers database can be synchronized via a server.


Discussion of results, conclusions and future research The three focus group sessions were designed to capture particularities of the system and frictions that limit an effective linkage between HE input providers, universities, society and the job and research market. In this way, institutions’ experts from the quadruple helix (university, government, business and society) were convened in order to have a view of the system from all perspectives. In the sessions, a set of entity-relationship diagrams were constructed and validated, as seen below, showing the internal structure of the links of HEVSIS, as well as a display of the main relationships and processes in which the actors from the HE chains interact. Table 1(a) shows the input-provider link, which shows higher education provisions, both in teaching and research, as well as the leaks in the system by non-formal education and non-academic consulting. It also shows, direct and indirect relationships between secondary education students and social sectors of the economy (private, public, publicprivate, and nonprofit sectors), as well as the relations seen between regulators of the secondary education system. Table 1(b) shows the processes involved in the HE supplier link (offerer). It also displays the organizational structure of a HEI, its adding value processes to students and research projects, toward their output as professionals and research results. Table 1(c) shows intermediate demander (customer), such as professionals, student’s families, professional associations, donors, etc. It shows teaching and research supply chain, and their interrelationship to entrepreneurship, research and employment. Besides, donors may participate in vocational education and training, and cooperate by investing/financing research projects impacting society through publications 8 and patents. Table 1(d) shows final demander (customer) such as labor market and society. Banks should have leading roles for entrepreneurship.


Conclusions and future directions Hence, this paper shows the importance of the integration among all links in the HEVSIS, which impacts by adding value to the HE processes to both supplies (i.e. teaching and research) but also the productivity of both, thus continually improving a bidirectional HE-society demand flow. Therefore, it is important that all actors involved worked out to solve fictions, leaks and wastes due to problems in linkages between them. This approach will be used as a cornerstone for future quantitative research on frictions or disconnections in all parts of the HE chains, which may result in problems such an HE supply and demand unbalance. Such quantitative research is currently designed on an ongoing project that allows for an efficient and effective interrelationship among HE input providers, HE suppliers, and HE demanders, guided by demand (value supplied to demanders) from a model of value and supply system with total integration (a HE integrated not only forward by demand, but also backward by supply). Lastly, in this research almost every module of SIQA was involved in the analysis, and the obtained results proved SIQA versatility



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