For this week’s readings, I started with John Fielden’s piece, “Global Trends in University Governance.” Fielden opens his work with a strong opinion about the role of government in Higher Education, explaining “that institutions should, as far as possible, be free to manage their own affairs” (Fielden, p.1, 2008). I found this quote extremely compelling seeing as we have been studying the role of the government and the state in International affairs, and how it directly enhances or hinders global efforts. Fielden’s writing is clear and concise. He beautifully illustrates his thoughts, while making a seemingly lengthy topic easy to comprehend. In his work, he speaks about governance in Higher Education and the growing need for a strong and effective management system. He reviews the governance of Higher Education, starting with the broad framework and narrowing it down to levels of autonomy of both private and public sectors, funding, and his conclusions. Overall, I found this article to bring up an extremely important conversation about the purpose of government and management of higher education systems. In a field which is seeing new growth internationally, it was interesting to read more about what rules are already put in place, and how effectively they are helping to manage our schools worldwide.
Keeping in topic, I then read “Governance reforms and university autonomy in Asia” by N.V Varghese and Michaela Martin. Together, they bring up the argument that university management systems have shifted from a “state control” to a “state supervision” model. Similar to many conversations we have had in class, it has becoming important to acknowledge the states role (or lack thereof) in Higher Education as reforms progress. In this article, the authors take a deeper look at case studies from Asian countries such as Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam. In these countries, they were given more autonomous management structures. As the authors mention, “the move towards autonomy is constrained by financial uncertainties in many less developed countries” (Varghese, 2013, p.3) Naturally, I always think of the United States and our higher education system when reading about the governance or autonomy achieved by other countries. While I know it can be seen as negative that we do not have our own ministry of education, I personally enjoy that our institutions are given so much freedom, both via governance and academically. For me, this conversation brings up the greater issue of law in Higher Education, and how countries with more autonomous Higher Education systems are able to use internal controls to synthesize a stronger system overall.
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.