As I was reading the pieces for this week, I kept on saying ‘oh, I want to talk about this in my blog” to pretty much every chapter. I found this odd, since I generally find the concept of governance dry and tedious. These readings, however, clearly and not-so-boringly described how authority and autonomy are implemented in different countries around the world.
The topic that I finally decided to discuss is buffer bodies. Governments delegate certain responsibilities to an adjoining organization. While some of these organizations, or councils, are purely advisory, others may have wide-ranging authorities, such as the allocation of funds, training, and research. The reading states that one of the benefits of this structure is that buffer bodies act as protection from micromanagement on behalf of the MOE (ministry of education). Even though other advantages are listed, to me, this may be one of the most important.
This stuck out to me because of how ubiquitous improper management is in large bureaucracies. Certain people or groups should not be sticking their noses in places they have no business. For example, high-level administrators at an HEI trying to run an on-the-ground operation even though they will never step foot in the place it’s being held. How can the MOE make efficient decisions when it knows nothing of what’s going on? The reading goes on to say that “The buffer body can recruit staff who are specialists in higher education and not career civil servants.” Employees in government are moved around so much, there is always the possibility that those in charge have no prior experience in the field they now manage. Even if the buffer body does not have any real power and only acts as an advisory board to the MOE, such as in South Africa, it can still play a significant role in making sure policies is prudent and beneficial to all constituents.
The Global Trends in University Governance piece does say that there are some possible drawbacks to this structure. It proclaims that a division between the MOE and the buffer body can emerge due to insecurities or distrust. The MOE might think that the latter is stepping on its toes, or perhaps doesn’t have the proficiency to implement policy. It could be even more trivial than that- since the minister and the chair of the buffer body work together, it could come down to a battle of egos. According to the reading, these instances have actually occurred before.
I don’t think that that is a convincing enough reason to believe that buffer bodies are a poor structural choice. In any branch of government or institution, there is the possibility for two different parties to have contrasting perspectives. Perhaps there needs to be a fourth party to watch over the MOE and the buffer body! That might be going too far, but a country shouldn’t risk bad policies being implemented because those involved don’t know how to work together. Just as we are learning in finance class, institutions can never be too safe when it comes to how things are controlled.