One other aspect of ‘merger’ that is worth exploring is the tendency towards amalgamation of previously separate support services as, in a large and complex organisation, this type of structural change can exhibit many of the same features as a merger between different institutions.
To some extent the types of convergence we are seeing are simply a reflection of technology beginning to take its rightful place as a supporter and enabler of core functions and being incorporated into the mainstream rather than something that has to be treated as separate. The convergence of library and IT functions and the inclusion of learning technologists in academic support teams rather than separate e-learning units are examples of this type of development.
"Although the term ‘one-stop-shop’ is less popular than it once was, the general approach is to bring all aspects of student support together in order to streamline provision. There was a feeling in the group that universities sometimes embark on convergence projects without even taking the time to ask students what they want, or perhaps not asking the right questions – instead asking questions framed by the beliefs and assumptions of staff." Heseltine, 2009
Another driver for convergence is the desire to simplify access to services for students. A Society of College, National and Library Services (SCONUL) ‘Think-Tank’ (Heseltine et al 2009) recognised a trend towards bringing student-facing services together and coined the phrase ‘superconvergence’ to describe the phenomenon. The report did however identify that a range of less customer focused drivers often lay behind these developments and suggested that other factors included:
- organisational politics
- shrinking the senior management team by making bigger portfolios
- attempts to balance the power of support areas against that of academic areas
- retirement of key staff providing an opportunity for change; and
- naked empire-building.
SCONUL identified that 20 higher education institutions (out of 72) exhibited the trend towards superconvergence and that some or all of the following services might be included:
- IT, including infrastructure, services and support
- multimedia/learning objects creation
- classroom support
- Virtual learning environment (VLE) support
- student administrative support, including registration and fees payment
- course management, including submission of assignments
- programme and module advice to students
- student support services, including counselling of all types, health and well being, Personal Development Planning (PDP), careers and employability, chaplaincy
- academic skills for students, including IT and information skills, study skills
- educational/learning development/staff development activities in support of academic staff
- advice to staff and students around issues such as copyright and plagiarism.
SCONUL was, understandably, looking at these developments from the perspective of future requirements for the information and library profession. The theme of changing professional cultures has also been considered by Weaver (2010) under the heading the ‘flexible professional‘ and she questions whether superconvergence can ever truly occur in a multi-campus institution using a case study from the University of Cumbria as an example.