(Un)bundling forces of HE and possible answers: new experimental models

The 2nd Danube Conference for Higher Education Management took place on 22-23th November 2018, in Budapest. It was organised for leaders, policy makers and researchers of higher education from the Danube countries. Zsuzsanna Géring, director of Future of Higher Education Research Centre, and Gábor Király, scientific director of FHERC were representing Budapest Business School at the conference. They gave a presentation about what unbundling (breaking down units to its component parts) means for higher educational institutions and what possible strategies they could follow in the future. The presentation also gave examples of different models as possible answers to these challenges.

In 2017, the first Danube Conference for Higher Education Management was held in Ulm, Germany, this year Budapest carried on this tradition by organising the next event. The conference focused on good management and policy practices in higher education which could be interesting for other countries and institutions. Higher education institutions have been constantly under pressure to enhance performance and efficiency. This pressure intensified with the massification of higher education and the increasing number of students who study abroad, leading to the growing importance of international rankings. The underlying reason behind the event is that Danube countries are able to adapt good practices from each other due to their cultural proximity.

The leaders of Future of Higher Education Research Centre examined how forces of unbundling might affect institutions.

Since process analysts started to break down industrial and service processes and processes, we have had first-hand experience of how the disintegration of larger units may lead not only to destruction but to added value as well. We have seen in recent years’ economic examples that unbundling units into its composite parts allows the purchase of more consumer-friendly products as well as new combinations. We can think about products and services notably in the field of musical albums, flights and television channel packages. Similar processes are present in the changing field of higher education, where functions such as teaching, research and service can be unbundled. The main question is how HEIs cope with the challenge of unbundling.

In the opinion of the presenters, there are three main HEI-strategies for the future in terms of bundling and/or unbundling.


The first is resisting unbundling, that is, despite acknowledging changes, keeping the main components of HE together. This strategy can be found at and suits typically the so-called “world-class” elite universities, which try to preserve their methods along with their traditions in order to maintain excellence and a powerful brand. The University of Oxford, a world-classuniversity, which is at the top of rankings, is a good example for resisting unbundling.

The second possible way to react to the changing landscape of HE sector is creative rebundling. This means creating new combinations from the existing functions or components of HEI by rebundling or shifting the emphasis between them. Both traditional and new institutions might try to find new synergies between existing functions such as research and teaching or teaching and service and in so doing find their place in the HE ecosystem. Aalto University in Finland, a driving force of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of its region, is a prime example for this strategy by connecting science (teaching & research), art & design and (social) entrepreneurship (service).

The third scenario open to HEIs is specialised unbundling by providing one function (for example teaching or validation of knowledge) very well at high quality level. These new institutions can be quite competitive in the given function on which they specialise and can find niche markets where they can survive or even become the dominant players. As an example, Minerva Schools at KGI have developed a new pedagogical system based on online real-time classes by providing a global experience (for students living in different world cities during their studies).

These examples for the previously mentioned strategies delineate certain pathways for transformations that might be inevitable and already under way in the HE field assuming a much higher level of diversity in the institutional ecosystem. Researchers emphasise that although we have not yet witnessed earth-shaking and ground-breaking changes in the higher educational sector, there are signs of transformation and efforts to move forward in the direction of the before-mentioned strategies.

The main questions for the future of HE include whether the different elements of universities are interdependent and mutually enriching, or alternatively, whether they can be unbundled to offer cheaper, more accessible, maybe even higher quality education.

If so, what are the possible consequences for the different types of HEIs in particular and for the HE sector in general? What are the implications for HE governance?