Ronald Barnett in his book “The Idea of Higher Education” says that governance of institutions of higher education which includes policy-making and strategic planning should be an expression of the will of the entire academic community. He states that boards of directors and vice chancellors are primarily interested in financial status, the essentials for operating, and that over endorsing the use of performance indicators and systems of appraisals is likely to diminish the feeling of community throughout an institution. When Barnett uses the term “community of scholars” he means a group of academicians/scholars having an internal culture of sharing and a common set of interests. Developing this “community” in universities can be realised, but can be hampered by managers whose primary focus is the cost and essentials of operating.
As I reflect on Barnett’s book and statements, I realise that a participatory approach manifested in a collaborative form of internal government is generally an excellent principle to guide the management of higher education institutions. Indeed there are benefits to employing a participatory approach to higher education governance. Doing so aids in establishing a balance between administrative and scholastic interests and also maintains the feeling of “community” in an institution. Additionally, if the faculty is allowed to participate in the development of policies and the governing body implements these policies harmony will be the result.
What I am advocating is a process of amalgamation of faculty and staff involvement, faculty resources and managerial techniques in the governance of an institution. Specifically, this requires four things: firstly, staff and faculty commenting on areas such as the use and distribution of funds and the effective use of resources; secondly, the development of a process of soliciting their opinions and comments; thirdly, ensuring that opinions and comments are taken into account when implementing policies and making decisions which affect the entire academic community; fourthly, if a collaborative form of internal government is to be truly successful, it requires the use of appraisal schemes aimed at balancing managerial techniques with faculty and staff involvement in governance. This appraisal scheme will also serve the purpose of determining the extent to which the views of the academic community are being considered.
Globally, there are many issues facing those who lead higher education institutions. These include the need to receive government and research funding in order to operate effectively and to show that the institution is not an ivory tower but is relevant and responsive to the needs of the local community. The need to provide training and expertise in developing a knowledgeable labour force that is equipped to participate in the development of local and national goals is also important. Another issue that is real to any institution of higher education, especially in the developing world, is that of resources and the growing demands placed on those institutions to be self-sufficient, accountable and produce more with less.
These and other issues faced by institutions of higher education might encourage boards of governors to focus on the financial status and essentials of operating. However, to successfully navigate these issues requires a tempering of the control exhibited by boards with staff involvement. In other words, there is a need for a collaborative form of internal government in higher education institutions. For indeed, more wisdom can be garnered from a group of people than from a single individual armed only with managerial techniques.