Rese­arch that moves

Thinking practically

Fern­fach­hoch­schule Schweiz (FFHS) is home to rese­arch and teaching, with some of its rese­arch funded by foun­da­ti­ons. A recent study on insti­tu­ti­ons for adults with disa­bi­li­ties illu­stra­tes how funda­men­tal, appli­ca­tion-focu­sed rese­arch at FFHS works.

‘The idea that funda­men­tal rese­arch rela­ting to social issues is market­a­ble hits a brick wall time and again,’ says Daniel Zöbeli, direc­tor of the Insti­tute of Manage­ment and Inno­va­tion. He explains that it does not make sense to work towards a busi­ness case for every piece of rese­arch, as is requi­red by the state funding agency Innosuisse.

‘That’s exactly why FFHS’ rese­arch is funded by foun­da­ti­ons,’ adds Daniela Mühlen­berg-Schmitz, head of the rese­arch area and lectu­rer at FFHS. She is curr­ently leading a study on how support services are recor­ded and funded at insti­tu­ti­ons for adults with disa­bi­li­ties in Switz­er­land (Erfi­bel).

Hoch­schule für soziale Arbeit in Olten and Dipar­ti­mento econo­mia aziendale, sanità e sociale (DEASS) in Ticino cover the socio-pedago­gi­cal aspect, while FFHS deals with the busi­ness manage­ment. The back­ground to the study is the shift in finan­cial auto­nomy over insti­tu­ti­ons that support disab­led people from the federal government to the cantons. The aim is to show the disin­cen­ti­ves of the current funding models and to propose solu­ti­ons on how care quality can be main­tai­ned despite incre­a­singly tight public finances.

When finan­ces are put under pressure

The Erfi­bel project has a social back­ground. ‘It’s not about a hard-nosed busi­ness case,’ empha­si­ses Mühlen­berg-Schmitz. Instead, she says, it’s about lear­ning what it actually means for people with disa­bi­li­ties when finan­ces are put under pres­sure. ‘Cantons and insti­tu­ti­ons need to clarify the situa­tion with each other,’ the rese­ar­cher stres­ses. ‘Cantons are swit­ching from a defi­cit guaran­tee to a flat-rate budget. They deter­mine funding on the basis of indi­vi­dual care needs [IBB], for which a perfor­mance grid is used,’ she explains. The analy­sis shows that cantons value the insti­tu­ti­ons’ deci­sion-making auto­nomy much more than the insti­tu­ti­ons them­sel­ves. They are highly satis­fied with the execu­tion and intro­duc­tion of the IBB. Howe­ver, some insti­tu­ti­ons believe the grid has flaws. They see a viola­tion of the rights of disab­led people, such as their right to a free choice of insti­tu­tion; e.g. if those who require a high level of care cannot obtain a suita­ble place due to a lack of funding. The study has met with a large amount of inte­rest. ‘Every canton and 40% of insti­tu­ti­ons were invol­ved,’ says a deligh­ted Mühlen­berg-Schmitz, adding: ‘It’s about a lot of money, 3% to 4% of a canton’s budget, and there are about 600 of these insti­tu­ti­ons. That’s some­thing that inte­rests the public, too.’

Not about people, but with them

‘Today, a lot of rese­arch is done on people with disa­bi­li­ties but it is not under­ta­ken with them,’ explains Mühlen­berg-Schmitz, ‘and we want to do that differ­ently.’ The detailed follow-up questi­ons in the second part of the study will be answe­red by people with disa­bi­li­ties. ‘Insti­tu­ti­ons tell us about certain cutbacks,’ explains the rese­ar­cher, ‘and now we want to under­stand and verify where and how disab­led people perceive this reduc­tion in perfor­mance.’ The second phase of the study is also finan­ced by foun­da­ti­ons. ‘This project has shown us how important fund­rai­sing exper­tise is when it comes to making an appli­ca­tion,’ adds Zöbeli. ‘Seeking funding from a foun­da­tion is a deman­ding, time-consu­ming task. We still do not have the full amount for the second phase.’ The lesson is that one needs to build up a trust-based rela­ti­ons­hip with the foun­da­ti­ons and show them the social bene­fits of the rese­arch projects. Often someone is needed to open the door, he explains. When the second phase is comple­ted, the aim is to deve­lop more sustainable models for faci­li­ties for the disab­led. ‘We would like to use the analy­sis to make a recom­men­da­tion and deve­lop a few proto­ty­pes,’ empha­si­ses Mühlen­berg-Schmitz, ‘and if we want to do that, we need to find more money.’ The aim is to give the insti­tu­ti­ons the tools to satisfy the finan­cial frame­work condi­ti­ons as well as their own care concepts. ‘It’s not a contra­dic­tion in terms – we can see good examp­les of this in prac­tice already.’

Pioneer of part-time distance lear­ning in Switzerland 

‘At FFHS, 80% of lear­ning takes place online in the form of blen­ded lear­ning, and it’s been that way for 20 years,’ explains Zöbeli. At present, about 2,500 people study across all their sites, with 140 employees and 400 lectu­rers. FFHS was foun­ded in 1998 to provide people, speci­fi­cally those who live in remote valleys, with educa­tion and further trai­ning. FFHS is now suppor­ted by Stif­tung Fern­fach­hoch­schule Schweiz. Part of its rese­arch focu­ses on non-profit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, with questi­ons rela­ting to funding, gover­nance and trans­pa­rency. It has already published a number of studies in colla­bo­ra­tion with the Center for Phil­an­thropy Studies (CEPS) in Basel; for example, board of trus­tees’ fees and exter­nal NPO mandates.

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