The management and financing of higher education - Malcolm Skilbeck and Helen Connell
World-wide challenges to higher education
The universities and higher education systems of the world are varied and diverse, displaying marked differences of style, resourcing, quality and capacity. Yet they share values and goals, draw on a common heritage and face similar challenges.
Huge enrolment increases and acute financial pressures are transforming institutions, challenging managers of the systems and institutions, and stimulating the search for new solutions. Unsatisfactory conditions for teaching and learning are all too common in a considerable number of countries, where the very meaning of higher education is under question—its value to individuals and society challenged by mismatches between study and career opportunities, between the knowledge and skills society needs and the ability of higher education to provide them. Variable quality, outcomes of questionable relevance and the loss of a near monopoly over higher learning, are among the concerns voiced in many countries. In the face of uncertainty about future roles, there is a widely accepted need for higher education to reconstitute itself and to recreate a living system of learning that engages closely with the conditions of contemporary life.
These challenges and problems are widespread, nevertheless higher education has shown a remarkable capacity to adjust to changing circumstances. In a number of countries, it is indeed stronger than at any previous time in history. The worldwide picture is uneven: high quality performance in some countries and near collapse in others. In these circumstances a concerted, collaborative and worldwide effort by the higher education community, in close co-operation with other social, economic and political actors, is called for.
Far-sighted leadership, analytical skills and capable, efficient management have never been more needed. The success of institutions hinges upon their ability to plan, organize and manage their affairs, to attract sufficient human and financial resources, and to use them effectively and efficiently, as they recast their mission of teaching, research and service to the community.
The social and economic viability of communities, States, provinces and nations in a globalizing and competitive world will increasingly depend upon higher education institutions. The ability of any jurisdiction to meet the needs and aspirations of its members for advanced and continuing education is becoming a determinant not only of its legitimacy, but also of its very survival. Such an education needs to be accessible, equitable, just, efficient and cost-effective.
Those countries whose higher education systems fail these tests will be severely disadvantaged, causing irreparable damage to their citizens. The reasons are complex, but may be simply stated. In modern societies, economic and social development, living standards and lifestyles depend upon a broad basis of discovery, invention and the application of scientific and social knowledge. Also required are the systematic use of new information and communication technologies, a flourishing advanced employment sector and a stable political environment. Higher education of good quality, underpinning the growth and development of the economy and the society, is a prerequisite.
Education systems, especially at the higher levels, are necessarily very resource intensive. In an era marked by economic liberalism, fiscal restraint, moves to reduce public debt, structural adjustment, public accountability and increased transparency of all public operations, resource-intensive higher education must be ready to undertake major changes. Part of the challenge is to find ways to diversify funding sources and to make substantial efficiency gains through improved management and innovation at the institutional level.
Autonomy, especially in universities, and the need to safeguard the freedom of enquiry and an independent sphere of operations for institutions and for the academic community, is sometimes taken to mean separation and a well-guarded enclave for higher education. But this is no longer possible, even if it were desirable. Increasingly the institutions are an integral part of economic and social development. In addressing the management and resource issues confronting higher education, a constant reference is required to the interface between institutions and system authorities, between the functioning of individual universities and colleges and system-wide policies, legislation and regulatory frameworks.
In the course of the UNESCO regional consultations and in papers preparatory to the 1998 World Conference on Higher Education, these and other dimensions of the challenge to higher education were addressed. It is clear that the financing and management of higher education can no longer proceed on some kind of idealistic, outdated model of fully State-funded, self-governing communities of scholars and students. Higher education is an integral part of modern society and there is an increasing need to strengthen its socio-economic roles and relations.
A changing socio-economic context
There is a worldwide emphasis on the roles that higher education might play in addressing both national and regional economic and social agendas. It is expected that formal regional groupings such as the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will provide a means to foster cross-border co-operation. Looser or less politically focused associations are also seen to serve a similar purpose of co-operative endeavour in higher education and research. In whatever form, the international sharing of experience and collaboration was a pervasive feature of the consultations.
The issues of management and finance are therefore increasingly being projected from local to regional and supra-national stages. It is from these stages that the changing context for future policy and action are being viewed. Thus, the European agenda for change in higher education in the XXIst century, adopted at the Palermo Regional Forum in September 1997, speaks of the impact of European integration, the demand for quality services from higher education across Europe, increasing globalization of teaching, learning and research, and the mission of higher education in helping to construct a future Europe-wide society (UNESCO, Palermo Regional Forum, 1997).
But the formal groupings are only part of the story. Liberalization of trade and investment, labour mobility and globalization generally are leading States both individually and collectively towards ambitious expectations, not least of which concern graduates of higher education. Within higher education itself, regional and global networks are providing a kind of overlay to economic globalization and the political/economic/regional groupings of countries. The interests and concerns of the academic community, whether within national systems or cross-nationally, do not always match those of the political and economic groupings. Even so there is a common theme, namely the need for higher education to become more outward-looking, and to play a more dynamic role in these wider economic and social settings.
The pursuit of regional and transnational objectives must be balanced through higher education's active participation in fostering each country's identity, nationhood and cultural heritage. Higher education is thereby challenged to maintain traditional, deep national roots as the newer, lateral ones develop. Such balances can be difficult both at the political level and within institutions, placing a premium on sensitive and responsible leadership.
In many of the poorer countries, globalization as a transcendent economic force, based on distant sources of power, is seen more as a threat than an opportunity. Thus, in the Dakar consultation, there was concern about outsourcing (which bypasses countries perceived to be underdeveloped or unstable), the impact of structural adjustment on public expenditure, brain drain and the global concentration of 'high tech' industry. Notwithstanding such concerns, it was recognized that the power and pervasiveness of the globalization movement and of its technological underpinnings are such that higher education systems must respond. No institution, no system of higher education, is able to build protectionist walls.
From another perspective it was recognized that higher education has a responsibility to assist in solving deep-seated social problems within countries. For the African continent these were identified in a frightening array of what have become chronic disorders in many countries: poverty, hunger, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, the debt burden, unfavourable trading conditions, inflation, environmental degradation and all forms and types of conflicts. In the Latin American and Caribbean consultation, challenges included extremes of wealth and poverty that, like the rate of population growth, are greater than in any other part of the world. Higher education faces the reality of economic decline in many of these countries—where inequality is starkly portrayed as a tiny elite of the well-to-do living in urban enclaves linked to the world market economy: 'virtual islets of modernity in an ocean of poverty' (CRESALC/UNESCO, 1996, p. 85).
In the relatively advanced economies of the European region, and the rapidly developing but still uneven Asia and Pacific region, higher education is embedded in a context of ever-rising expectations and demands. Rapid technological and industrial change and new political realities are putting long-established educational and cultural values, communities and traditional cultures at risk of annihilation. The role of education in cultural evolution and community renewal is indeed a universal issue that can all too easily be overlooked in the inevitable preoccupation with economic growth.
In all regions there are exaggerated extremes of wealth and poverty. Equity and gender imbalances remain a major issue differing only in degree across countries. The globalization process and macro-economic policies offer many (if unequally distributed) opportunities for highly competent and mobile professionals; they spell unemployment and relative poverty for many other people, especially youth. The reform agenda for higher education and the tasks of leadership and management need to be broadly defined—even where individual institutions concentrate on distinctive roles. This agenda can be strengthened through contributions to debates about future directions of society, as recommended in the Delors Commission's Learning: the treasure within (Delors, 1996).
Student numbers: demand and growth
The common quantitative element across all regions and in most, if not all, countries is increasing demand for access, whose cumulative effect is a huge increase in numbers. Although the rate of increase in some countries has slowed, the overall picture during the past three decades is one of rapid growth. Students enrolled worldwide in tertiary education increased by 61% between 1980-1995, to some 82 mil- lion students. UNESCO statistics demonstrate two phenomena: gross overall growth and quite different rates of participation across countries. While growth has been particularly rapid in the less-developed regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Asia/Oceania, the Arab States and Southern Asia, it has been from a very low base; on average 824 higher education students per 100,000 inhabitants in the less-developed regions in 1995, compared with some 4,110 in the more developed regions (Mputu, 1997). Strong support for continued growth in participation was given by the regional consultations, which unequivocally argue for access to be fully open and democratic, based on such criteria as merit and capacity (UNESCO, 1997).
In one of the working papers prepared for the Tokyo consultation, Senator Edgardo J. Angara posed the issue in stark terms (Angara, 1997, p. 3):
Thus far the major response has been to facilitate and encourage access and, more recently, to focus on quality and relevance. The dramatic increases in enrolment notwithstanding, numerous distortions and imbalances exist in all regions. The number of women in tertiary education increased in all regions between 1980-95, consistently at a higher rate than for men; indeed the more developed regions have shown a gap in favour of women (Mputu, 1997). Females, however, generally remain disproportionately enrolled in certain traditional 'women's subjects'. Students from lower socio-economic groups are underrepresented and attrition rates are very high.
The mass system has certainly increased access in volume terms, but has generated new problems—some of which will remain insoluble unless radical changes are made to the supply and organization of higher education. The heavy concentration of higher education in urban areas in many of the Asia and Pacific countries, for example, and inadequate provision for students in rural areas were cited in the Tokyo consultation (July 1997) as reasons for adopting new approaches.
The main task for policy-makers, administrators and institutional managers for several decades has been to provide resources, physical facilities, staff and equipment to address growing demand. Both individual aspirations and the socio-economic need for high levels of competency in the workforce and for an enlightened, responsible citizenry are at issue. Although in some countries participation rates in higher education are already in excess of 50% of the young adult age group (and there are increasing enrolments of mature age students), demand in these countries is likely to continue to increase. At the other extreme, in countries where participation rates may be 15% or less, the road is longer and harder, due to economic and political conditions—but the forces of growth are also present.
Growth has imposed enormous strains and created many distortions particularly in universities. Many institutions are overcrowded, adding to the resource problems and resulting all too often in education of questionable value and quality. Diversification of institutions and educational programmes is one possible remedy not only for the problem of overcrowded universities but also as a means of economizing. However, some previously diverse or multi-sectoral systems have moved towards a unitary structure, so diversity becomes a matter of differentiated missions, programmes and methods within institutions of the same type. Part of the problem of university overcrowding is the strong preference of students and families for university studies even where satisfactory alternatives exist. Where diversity means significantly lower status of some types of institutions and programmes of study, bottlenecks and inefficiencies in resource allocation are occurring. This is a topic that, while it did not receive much attention in the reports of the consultations, requires attention.
Resources: human and financial efficiency issues
Inadequate resources for teaching and research coupled with chronic underfunding bring into question not only the quality, relevance and efficiency of present provision but the capacity to meet demand to fund further growth and to sustain a satisfactory R&D base. Especially in those regions where demand is not being met and where there are very serious resourcing problems, more radical funding policies need to be pursued. Funding, however, is of itself an insufficient response. Fresh thinking is needed on managing increased and diverse demand in educationally satisfactory ways and on research budgeting. Specific weaknesses, gaps and mismatches need to be targeted, such as 'mismatches in the demand for and supply of highly trained personnel, especially in countries undergoing rapid growth and industrialization' (UNESCO, Asia and Pacific Regional Conference, 1997, p. 2), 'excessively high student/teacher ratios which make individual attention to students difficult' (UNESCO, African Regional Consultation, 1997, p. 3) and 'gender inequity at all levels' (ibid.). Such problems and defects require strong academic leadership and improved management as much as they do increased financial resources. There is also an issue of incentives and sanctions in public policy. This said, there is clearly a growing worldwide crisis of underfunding.
In most countries, the unit of resource has been progressively reduced and staff-student ratios, particularly for undergraduate programmes, have worsened. Institutions are enjoined to do more with less. There is an efficiency gain but it often does not translate into improved quality of teaching and learning, and high priority research is at risk.
Several countries, where charges falling directly on students have been relatively low, are exploring options to increase contributions by students and their families. Some have introduced fee regimes, others are considering them. Loan systems, heavily subsidized by the government, are common in support of student living costs. Such loans have to be repaid and there is concern over heavy levels of debt falling particularly on young people and a significant problem of default. Various options are under consideration to reduce support for student housing and subsistence, and several countries have substantially increased charges falling on out-of-state or out-of-country students.
Thus fees and charges for students are not confined to private institutions but are increasingly seen as an option in the public sector, accompanied by fee subsidies, loans, grants, scholarships and means-tested allowances. One scheme is the Australian practice of deferred payments, whereby students may pay an up-front cost at a discounted rate or incur a charge whose repayment is deferred until they are in employment and earning a basic income. Approximately one-quarter of the cost of tuition is chargeable in this way to students. For a number of years the scheme has succeeded in eliciting additional resources for higher education and has helped to fund growth, but it is under increasing pressure due to administrative complexities and mounting costs in a period when government is seeking to contain public expenditure.
Although many governments are showing an interest in new ways to meet rising costs of study (Hidalgo, 1996; Salmi, 1997), the consultation meetings have given little support to what is perhaps the most tangible and obvious way of increasing teaching resources, namely tuition fees. There was, instead, general support for a continued or enlarged State role in financing higher education. Yet it was also widely recognized that public funds are (and are likely to remain) insufficient for the foreseeable future, for reasons such as continuing economic difficulties and other government priorities such as, in Eastern and Southern Africa, the provision of a good quality basic education for all (Blair, 1997).
Apart from policies to encourage private institutions and cheaper forms of higher education than on-campus university study, two main sources of additional resources have been identified. First is income generation through the sale of such services as consultancies, continuing education courses, fees for out-of-state or out-of-country students, hire of facilities and premises and the sale of products. Second is support by industry and commerce in the form of research funding, scholarships, access to staff and facilities, work placements for students and direct grants.
The extent to which such sources are contributing to the solution of the revenue problems of institutions is not well documented. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) studies indicate that in the industrially advanced countries, industry contributions may not currently exceed 5% of operating costs of institutions. It is clear, however, that some sectors of higher education (such as engineering) are better placed than others (the humanities and social sciences) to attract significant and consistent external income from industry (OECD/DSTI, 1998). While all income-generating activities have potential that should be more actively pursued, Blair's assessment for higher education in Southern and Eastern Africa is that 'really significant funding' from all of these sources combined is highly improbable and is therefore 'not a solution to the fundamental financial problems of higher education institutions in Africa' (Blair, 1997, p. 19). Experience in a small number of countries suggests that income from all sources other than direct government funding of student loans can be well in excess of 50% of operating costs for some individual institutions. However, these sources generally include a heavy public sector component, for example research grants and consultancies. They also depend upon a highly developed private sector economy.
These alternative funding sources are unlikely to provide a sufficient answer to the general problem of underfunding. Still, it is important to pursue them as part of a strategy of intensive use of facilities and equipment, more innovative styles of management, and the orientation of staff towards increased efficiency and improved relations with the wider society.
Better use of the finances available to institutions is required. A key factor is what institutions are allowed, by regulation, to do with their funds; whether, for example, they may borrow and invest. In many countries, the trend has been away from input budgeting where institutions receive amounts for use only in defined categories (salaries, buildings) and towards a form of output budgeting increasing institutional flexibility in use of funds. Judicious handling of cash reserves is an important additional internal source of revenue for many institutions. Sanyal and Martin (1996) note the greater prominence of financial management within institutions and the growing prestige of financial managers in institutional hierarchies. Much can be achieved through greater concentration on institutional resource management in an environment of devolved responsibility.
Nevertheless, more resources are needed. It seems improbable that a careful reappraisal of the student fees option will be indefinitely postponed. There is a growing body of opinion that some form of cost-sharing with the immediate beneficiaries of higher education, namely students, will become necessary. There are strong ethical and political objections to fees in public institutions in some countries and their introduction where they do not already exist could raise serious difficulties. Great care would therefore be needed and this should include firm commitments by governments that any additional revenues would be applied to higher education. Students and families unable to pay fees or other expenses should not be deprived of opportunity. The consultations agreed that entry to institutions should be by merit and need, and not by means.
The arguments in the present debate on fees and other charges (accommodation, subsistence) are summarized here:
Arguments against fees may be summarized as:
Governments need to decide at just what stage of education the right to 'free education' is to be circumscribed. This varies considerably by country. The heart of the present debate is the initial years of tertiary education, those that lead to a first qualification. Charges for subsequent levels of study have been introduced over a number of years in many countries with relatively little controversy.
A central aspect of resourcing is the staffing of higher education institutions. Due to a number of factors, notably funding, salaries and conditions of work for teaching, research, technical and administrative staff are unsatisfactory in many countries. In several countries, especially in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, they have deteriorated to a crisis point. Cadres of badly paid, poorly motivated teachers working perhaps in several part-time jobs and in environments where basic equipment and study materials are lacking, provide an unsatisfactory prognosis for the ambitious developmental functions expected of a university or college. Weak funding of research and poor working conditions do not augur well for the future of the 'knowledge-based society'. The policy options are yet to be fully articulated, and while increased and more effective uses of financial resources to improve salaries and conditions of work are a crucial factor, so also are improvements in training, recruitment and further professional development of staff, strengthened personnel management systems and greater attention to career structures—including a review of the academic hierarchies prevailing in many countries and the uncertain, temporary nature of many research posts.
The staffing challenges identified in the consultations require a strong and capable management team in every institution. The issues of poor motivation, inadequate skills and unsatisfactory career progression arrangements apply to technical and administrative staff as well as to academics. Sophisticated, skilful management and administrative procedures are needed. Career guidance and placement, continuing professional education, research liaison and technology incubators, structures for stakeholder involvement and so on cannot be provided for unless these procedures are in place. The issues require just as much attention in relatively well-resourced as in poorly resourced systems.
The efficient use of resources also implies staff of a high calibre and integrity in ministries, buffer bodies, research agencies and academic institutions. Such staff may be in short supply and may become part of the brain drain. The combination of funding cuts, mounting costs and scarcity of highly competent personnel means that innovations to improve the structure and organization of institutions, reform teaching, strengthen research and use resources more effectively are jeopardized. Some countries are far more favourably placed than others in this regard. There will be considerable benefit from taking the steps proposed in the consultations for more training opportunities, the sharing of international experience and improved international co-operation. Most important, however, systems and institutions must show readiness to evaluate existing arrangements and adopt more radical approaches to all aspects of resourcing teaching and research.
Infrastructural change and institutional practice
Institutions are operating in a financially difficult and volatile context: the pressures of growth of demand; the mood of economic constraint on public spending; devolution and decentralization; the growth of privatization in tertiary education and globalization across national boundaries; and the inexorable movement of research frontiers into multidisciplinary research beyond the bounds of individual institutions. Challenges to hitherto largely stable organizational and conceptual models of higher education have highlighted a number of contradictions or dilemmas to be resolved (Hill, 1997).
During the regional consultations it was suggested that a trade-off for devolution of various responsibilities to institutions is internal reform of governance and decision-making. Reform typically includes streamlining of the complex internal committee structure, a greater concentration of power in smaller but more widely representative governing bodies, and enlarged executive authority for institutional leaders. Leadership and management responsibility are not confined to vice-chancellors, rectors, their deputies or heads of university administration, but extend to deans, department heads and middle-range administrative officers. Emphasis on entrepreneurship in many systems has led to a greater complexity of internal structures, notably the emergence of specialized research, teaching and service centres or units, often interdisciplinary, alongside traditional departmental and faculty structures. These centres or units are frequently funded for a specific period of time by one or more external sources, and academic, technical and administrative staff may share their time and responsibilities between them and a base department. But their fortunes can also change rapidly; their quasi-independence within universities has resulted at times in inventive financial and general management methods.
In many countries, there is increasingly a mixture of dispersed management and decision-making on the one hand, and a concentration of authority for strategic planning purposes on the other. They imply an enlarged capacity on the part of people whose role in the past may often have been less demanding and less visible except on ceremonial occasions. The need for acquiring culture and training in these new modes has been expressed in the consultation proposals. The Declaration and action plan on higher education in Africa makes high-level staff training one of the main planks in its proposals for improving management.
It is not to be expected that each institution individually and separately will undertake management training. This calls for system-wide programmes for which specialist centres, training staff and consultants are needed. Proposals have been made in the consultations for a variety of regional activities to enhance management and decision-making capabilities, collectively addressing the needs of a number of countries and drawing upon their resources. The need is not confined to institutions, since system management has become more complex and demanding with growth and diversification.
New approaches to institutional governance and management suggest a need for a new cadre of managers. That need clearly exists for full-time university administrators but there is no suggestion that academics would cease to play key roles in the governance and management of their institutions. The involvement of representatives of employers, unions, professionals, government and the community in governing and advisory bodies is complementary to academic management. This involvement is consistent with the emphasis in the consultations on closer and more practical associations between the institutions and these various outside interests.
Transparency and accountability
Attention to the efficient use of resources naturally relates to the recent upsurge of interest in quality appraisal and the policy emphasis on social and economic relevance. Due to financial stringency and contemporary climates of opinion affecting public administration systems, institutions are becoming more open to public scrutiny and are visibly accountable for their use of resources. Well established in research funding, scrutiny and accountability measures are increasingly evident in the teaching function of institutions.
Accountability is often expressed as demonstrated performance against clearly defined goals and criteria. One example is output or performance-based funding whereby funds are allocated to institutions for teaching purposes not on the basis of intake numbers alone, but also on completion and success rates. Close monitoring and accurate records are required, as well as a capacity by institutions—often difficult to achieve—to move resources flexibly. Armed with such data, funding bodies can thereby give better reports on what is an often poorly documented and little understood aspect of higher education, namely rates of failure and attrition and extended study periods.
Moves to increase transparency and accountability are part of an agenda of change in public administration; they are not confined to the education sector. But, due perhaps to a tradition of institutional autonomy and self-government, and the esoteric nature of academic life, in that sector the shock has been sometimes quite profound and compliance weak. It is noteworthy that in all of the regional consultations, many procedures that would have been unwelcome or unacceptable in many systems only a decade ago are now being embraced.
Giving confidence to stakeholders by demonstrating performance in publicly acceptable ways is increasingly accepted as a key function of senior institutional management. Commenting on changes in the past two to three decades in the Asia and Pacific region in relations between government and higher education institutions, Harman (1997) stressed increased formality and the establishment of new structures, including buffer and advisory bodies, together with acceptance that increased autonomy is desirable within these frameworks. In this context accountability measures become one of the conditions of successful financial and other negotiations between government and institutions.
There is a general trend towards a more strategic policy and financing role for government, combined with greater discretion by higher education institutions in ways of meeting policy objectives and managing their own affairs. On the one hand, rational administration that incorporates a model of resource allocation for clearly defined purposes is subject to the test of performance through transparent and accountable procedures. It is also a counterbalance to political manipulation and something of a safeguard against corruption. On the other hand, a ready acceptance of accountability requirements demonstrates an interest in improved efficiency—a step welcomed by finance ministries.
Within institutions, procedures have become more open: staff appointments, promotions, reports on teaching and research outcomes, and decision-making by governing bodies and senior officers tend to be more rigorous and fair when open to scrutiny. The adoption of student evaluations of teaching staff is one measure of the accountability of the teacher to the student, something often overlooked in the debate.
The drive towards greater transparency in academic affairs raises a number of issues for further consideration. Long-established decision-making practices in institutions, based on the principle of collegiality, often entail complex procedures, lengthy debates and other practices that are at odds with a more entrepreneurial style of management, and do not always carry conviction with external audiences. The legislation, charters, statutes and ordinances under which universities and other institutions operate, as well as customary practice, have built up rights and privileges for particular academic groups. Although many changes have taken place that affect governance and decision-making, there is still a considerable difference between much academic practice and that of public administration, business and commerce. This is not to say that the latter should simply be transferred into higher education institutions, but academics are under increasing pressure to explain and justify their procedures. Where they believe change is not desirable, their reasoning should go beyond customary practice and existing regulatory frameworks. The improvements in study conditions and facilities, in research funding and in the overall quality in academic life that were so emphatically sought in the consultations are more likely to be achieved where there is a readiness to review existing practice.
Scepticism about the implications of some of the current trends in transparency and accountability is not, however, always just a matter of dogged resistance to change or the defence of special privilege. The academic institution can be held formally accountable for expenditure and, up to a point, for predefined performance in study and research. The accountability of the individual academic may be less clear cut.
As employees, academics are accountable to the institution or to the State where they are public servants. Accountability may also be expressed in contracts of employment specifying terms and conditions. However, academics are also accountable in a more closely defined way to a faculty, department or centre within the institution. More generally or abstractly, they are accountable to peers in the subject, discipline or profession. They are accountable to research funding bodies for the conduct of specific projects and, as teachers, to their students.
Although common principles govern these different types of accountability, procedures differ. Where staff are, of necessity, working part-time for two or more institutions, as reported in the Latin American and Caribbean consultation, to whom or what do they owe allegiance and how transparent are the staffing and resource structures of the institutions? As term-based staffing appointments increasingly make inroads into tenure, the issue of accountability becomes more acute. The term contract may formally specify obligations, but beyond that, nothing can be required, nor can the staff member assume all of the rights and privileges of membership in the institution. The increasing proportion of temporary, part-time, non-tenured staff is at odds with the collegial tradition that assumes a larger, often implicit, complex and non-transparent set of relations between the individual academic and the institution.
These and other changing realities of academic life, especially in the sphere of staffing and personnel, need consideration in the moves to increase accountability and transparency. The result, rather than the intricacies of the process, is crucial. For example, provided due procedures are followed, successfully concluding a complex negotiation, resolving a dispute or achieving consensus are of more importance than disclosure of the detail of methods.
Regulation, autonomy and student participation
A defining characteristic of universities is the right to award diplomas and degrees that are the culmination of a long period of study at the tertiary level and are recognized professionally and in the community. The authority exercised by the staff of the institution often (but not always) extends to determining diploma or degree requirements, the curriculum and standards of performance, instruction and examination. But this authority is seldom unqualified, since these internal academic matters may be subject to legislation, external regulations or requirements, and periodic reviews, usually those of education ministries and professional bodies. Moreover national research strategies and selection policies of grant-giving bodies increasingly determine the research programmes of universities. These conditioning factors notwithstanding, however, autonomy is widely recognized—at least in principle—as appropriate to a university. To a lesser degree, autonomy is also sought after and recognized in other tertiary institutions. Academic freedom, although separate from the question of institutional autonomy, can be at risk when constraints on the autonomy of the institution are heavy and detailed, for example in matters of curriculum.
The Declaration about higher education in Asia and the Pacific made at the Tokyo conference affirmed a need in the region for increased 'responsible institutional autonomy' in conjunction with accountability. Autonomy was extended to such principles as the freedom to select staff and students, to determine the conditions under which they remain in the university and to select research topics. Freedom to determine curriculum and degree standards was affirmed along with the capacity to allocate funds, within the amounts available, across different categories of expenditure.
The relevance of autonomy to management and resource issues is evident within the institution where the principle of autonomy is carried through to the authority exercised by individual faculties, departments and teachers. The management of universities as academic entities, including the extensive use of committees and boards, acknowledges the prerogatives of academics in relation to subject matter, teaching, study and research in which they are authoritative. Determination to uphold these protocols and structures, which reflect the distinctiveness and the richness of academic activity, lies behind some of the concerns expressed in the regional consultations.
The emphasis on principled autonomy and on the nature of academic authority relations might seem somewhat idealistic when compared with the actual practice in many countries. Yet its underlying values are deeply held within the international academic community and they explain some parts of the debate about the relevance and acceptability of new forms of executive management and financial control mechanisms. They also help to explain the frequently expressed concerns in the regional consultations about compromises and intrusions into academic life, to say nothing of impossible conditions in the financing and organization of the institutions.
The new balance sought between the values and the internal workings of institutions and State-wide policies and regulatory frameworks, does not signify a reduced State role, but a different and more strategic one of 'steering at a distance' and direction-setting. The key terms are goals, policy frameworks, guidelines and strategic oversight of the higher education system in place of direct bureaucratic control over each institution's affairs.
Coherent policies and structures, incorporating the principles of academic freedom, institutional autonomy and frameworks for regulating and monitoring performance, are needed and efforts are being made, albeit unevenly, to put them in place where they do not exist or are in disarray.
The self-managed institution is necessary, but its freedom is not unlimited. For example, there is a public as well as an academic interest in enrolments, in the severe imbalances that are occurring in many countries in the subjects students are studying, notably between science and technology and the humanities and social sciences. Standards concerning both the quality and the relevance of what students study are also of public interest, since large numbers of poorly prepared graduates would be a burden not only to themselves and their families, but also to the economy and society. On the matter of labour-market relations, the private sector, the professions and the government all have a major interest in institutional decisions.
Thus the concept of autonomy needs to be carefully rethought in relation to the nature of public interest, academic values and interests and the changing context of institutional activities. Academic freedom is a necessary condition of study, scholarship and research, and teachers should be free to determine the focus and scope of enquiry. Such freedom is not, however, confined to academics. Indeed, it is being exercised by students in their increasing access to databases and other sources of information. Autonomy is inevitably subject to many constraining influences, and must be negotiated with a variety of partners and interests at the interface between the institution and its environment. The challenges and problems identified in the regional consultations indicate that institutional management will be giving increasing attention to the scope and limits of institutional autonomy.
Student roles and responsibilities are highly germane to the issues of autonomy and institutional decision-making. Student activism and unionism have, over several decades and in different parts of the world, featured prominently in relations between the government and institutions. Campus violence and the closure of institutions not only attract public disquiet, they severely disrupt academic life, testing to the limit the conflict management capabilities of institutional administrations and bringing into question the values of free enquiry and informal debate of contentious issues (Salmi, 1997).
A positive and enduring outcome of student unrest has been the development of more participatory styles of university governance. These have gone much farther in some systems than others; consequently in the consultations there were calls for a more prominent role for and by students. For example, included in proposals made by the students of the University of Benin is to 'Set in motion an unprecedented movement within universities by organizing frequent conferences within universities on the initiative of the students themselves' (Étudiants de l'Université du Benin, n.d.).
In the Declaration of the Asia and Pacific conference, the same theme surfaced (UNESCO, Asia and Pacific Regional Conference, 1997, p. 14):
The Declaration and action plan on higher education in Africa adopted at the regional consultation in Dakar included perhaps the strongest of any of the undertakings on students in the regional consultations (UNESCO, African Regional Consultation, 1997, p. 10):
UNESCO's international consultative procedures have provided excellent opportunities for the voices of a number of students' organizations to be heard. There is a message here for future consultations and conferences.
Managing new teaching and learning systems
The pressure of numbers and developments in information and communication technologies have stimulated much-needed innovations in teaching and learning. A diverse system of higher education—with well-planned alternatives to universities, distinctive institutional missions based on strengths, needs and opportunities and a private sector of good quality—is able to provide programmes well adapted to the different needs and aspirations of students. A diversity of institutions could assist also in resolving the overcrowding problem of public universities in particular and the imbalances in institutional profiles that result. One of the problems shared by many countries is a rather rigid adherence to an unduly conformist model of 'the university'. Another is the failure of institutions other than universities to command the status and prestige sought by students and their families.
The design of new learning systems, while likely to be promoted by a diversity of institutions, does not depend upon large-scale structural changes at the system level. Innovations are taking place within existing institutions. Of particular interest is the development of specialized programmes and institutions of distance education. In several of the regional meetings, the worldwide growth of distance education was seen to be a major step in resolving many present difficulties whilst providing opportunities for new categories of students.
Distance education facilitates student access including first time, mature age students and those seeking professional upgrading. It is also a means to improve low-quality teaching and standards of student learning and performance. The reason for this is the attention that must be given to course material and the organization of new kinds of contacts between students and staff focused on the learning needs of students, whether programmes are largely based on the printed and taped materials of correspondence education or incorporating the new information and communication technologies. A system-wide approach to distance education, drawing progressively on the new technologies as their costs decline, their efficiencies improve and their educational value grows, is of incalculable importance to countries struggling with many of the educational problems identified in the consultations.
As demand continues to grow and enrolments increase, it is likely that only through the various types of distance education can cost-effective solutions be found. The nature of the educational experience differs from that of conventional face-to-face teaching, but the quality of course materials is often higher, students' needs are usually addressed in a systematic way and standards of performance have been shown to be quite comparable to those in conventional institutions. Close attention to the management of learning is required and there are major staffing issues to address. The role of staff must include substantial planning and preparation time; use of correspondence and telecommunications instead of face-to-face contact implies a different type of relationship with students. Participation in coursework teams, which may involve diverse specialists including those from other institutions and the private sector, calls for a practical understanding of group dynamics. Staff profiles change to include a wide variety of technical personnel, designers, editors and so on.
New staff profiles, training programmes, conditions of employment and academic structures are needed. Initial costs can be quite high but they must be treated as an investment and they need to be planned for in the expectation of substantial reductions in the unit of resource as systems are put in place and enrolments grow. The worldwide growth of distance education and the striking success of many institutions and programmes demonstrates both a need and an ability to satisfy it.
Plans for the development of virtual universities, mentioned in the Asia and Pacific Consultation and discussed in detail in some of the expert papers, are already well advanced in some countries. Various co-operative arrangements are already in place whereby students can regularly access courses in more than one institution. Private providers, using the new communication and information technologies, are exploring institution-free modes of delivery. The creation of national qualifications frameworks based on a hierarchy of competent performance levels is a structural innovation with considerable potential. The design and operation of these systems are calling forth new management skills and ways of financing study.
Further analysis of these highly significant developments in the provision and delivery of higher education is called for as part of the commitment by the regional conferences to enhance regional co-operation. National boundaries will be increasingly crossed as students access study programmes, databases and other sources of information wherever they may be located in the world. Okebukola remarked in a paper on managing higher education prepared for the African consultation in Dakar that 'An agenda for higher education in Africa for the twenty-first century should give prominence to open and distance education' (Okebukola, 1997, p. 9). This comment could equally be made in all regions of the world.
The strategies and methods directed towards support for and reform of higher education are numerous and varied. Through the regional consultations and the papers prepared for them, many different issues were addressed and solutions canvassed. They all find their focus in one essential task—to define, provide and sustain the conditions upon which good teaching, learning, study, research and scholarship depend. Directions for improving the quality and relevance of academic work fall within this essential task and set criteria for its performance.
Freedom of enquiry, scope for creativity and imagination, time and space for reflection, analysis and synthesis and a serious engagement with the critical social and cultural issues of the age cannot be cramped by excessive zeal for short-term results, although the academic community can be expected to respond to the need to solve the pressing problems facing humanity.
Reductions in the unit of resource and worsening staff-student ratios can be counted as an efficiency gain and an improvement in productivity. But if the quality of education that is provided is low, if research is impoverished, and if the conditions under which staff and students work are poor, the cost of the efficiency gain would be too high. Addressing problems of inefficiency is not merely a matter of reducing costs, desirable as this might be, but of introducing innovations that demonstrably advance educational purposes at a manageable cost. 'Manageable' means within existing or anticipated resources, which includes any additions that might be procured. The use of this criterion focuses attention on the quality and relevance of teaching and research rather than on cost-cutting. It is in the interest of governments to strengthen the links among quality, relevance, funding and management rather than to allow financial stringency to accelerate a downward spiral in the very qualities higher education exists to provide.
Cost containment without loss of quality and consistent with the purposes and values of higher education is, of course, an appropriate goal for the system as a whole, wherever it is feasible to adopt such an approach. Apart from its obvious necessity, the quest for greater efficiency demonstrates to funding bodies that any additional resources are likely to be well used.
Two major limiting factors in the consultations are, first, low and declining levels of financial resources and, second, the gap between the capabilities of existing personnel and the numerous challenges they are called upon to meet. A third limiting factor, more often implicit than explicitly stated, is the persistence of rigid structures and procedures that stand in the way of the flexible and creative approaches that are so clearly needed. These limiting factors need to be vigorously and comprehensively addressed in the continuing dialogues that were foreshadowed or agreed to in the regional meetings.
Policy and management decisions, resource allocations and accountability measures need to be directed by a close understanding of and a sensitivity towards the institutional field of action not only as it presently exists, but as it needs to evolve. Ultimately the justification for the orientation towards management and policy-making, the financial and other operational strategies and the efficiency considerations discussed throughout this paper lies in the possibilities for strengthening, improving and reforming higher education.
Together with the recognition of the urgent need to meet societal expectations and economic requirements, it is timely to remind ourselves in a discussion of management and finance of the values of a peaceful, democratic and just civil society and international order, which provide a beacon for the direction higher education should take. Knowledge, understanding and free enquiry are the basic commodities of higher education and the advancement of learning its raison d'etre.
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