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Algerian universities seem to have identified a vision, approach, and methodology with respect to the concept of governance, which is aimed at helping them gradually improve their management practices. While it is true that a university that strives for excellence must follow guidelines and standards, it must also adopt a mindset conducive to its development. The dysfunctions noted at the most recent national conference, held January 12-13, 2016 to assess the plan for the License, Mastère, Doctorat (LMD), did not focus on the managerial dimension. At times, it is thus the ethical dimension of governance (transparency, accountability, avoidance of conflicts of interest, fair decision-making, etc.) that has most often been one of the missing ingredients, despite the implementation of guidelines, rules, and protocols related to good governance and to ongoing improvement. However, this process has seemed more like the application of set formulas and less like the inculcation of attitudes, beliefs, and values that are more in line with a managerial approach where the emphasis must be placed on quality and efficiency.
However, governance, understood as the “manner in which universities and, more generally, institutions of higher learning, identify and achieve their objectives, manage their institutions, and monitor outcomes” (World Bank, June 2012, Report on the Governance of Universities in Algeria), is incomplete without the addition of a number of essentially ethical principles aimed at repositioning universities, which have lost their luster among citizens, within the society. In this regard, at the 2009 World Conference on Higher Education, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, acknowledged the “ethical and strategic responsibilities of higher education in today’s global society” (Matsuura M, 2009:1), particularly since universities should draw on decision-making approaches that require greater cooperation and negotiation leading to more consensual approaches to public regulation methods.
Should governance, along with its scope and impact, be reconsidered? It should, if the stakeholders have only a narrow vision or an instrumentalist approach where governance is seen as the pure and simple application of procedures and other processes as a more or less appropriate guide. If, however, university governance is more than a merely technical process, then it should be reconsidered as a complex whole also requiring the filtering of actions taken by universities through a broader ethical lens so as not to be limited to its adoption without examining what are generally exogenous principles.
The ultimate objective of this governance should, without a doubt, be the shaping of twenty-first century citizens who embrace technology and possess knowledge and skills, but are also imbued with values and tend to espouse tolerance. This is necessary even if academic institutions have not had complete success with the process of enculturation because they are stymied each year by the management of growing numbers of students and uncoordinated pedagogical activities carried out by training officers whose results often fall short of society’s expectations. Consequently, good governance, which must adhere to codes of conduct that bolster the interactional and transactional components within the university setting (ethical standards in management and governance), is not only a matter of implementing regulatory mechanisms but also building and strengthening overall consistency. Consequently, in order to manage the issue of otherness, the remaining stakeholders impose an ethical approach in the organization and management of the university in question. Good governance is, first and foremost, a university policy informed by perspectives and expectations that are used to reflect on and prepare for the future; it is the willingness of stakeholders to look toward the future and better adapt to the upheaval taking place the world over. Good governance is a strategy in that it prevents individuals from getting bogged down in non-existent problems and proposing alternatives in every area and from adopting the routine ‘copy-paste’ approach used in the tunnel-vision training provided by the former regime, which was sometimes replicated, without modification, in a number of LMD training programs. Effectiveness must therefore go hand in hand with ethical and moral values as well as accountability.
The academic community cannot move forward (in the areas of innovation, research, or pedagogy) without assimilating the values that should characterize it. This does not mean that it should focus on management at the expense of the human component. An ethical approach to and in governance is really a set of values and virtues (loyalty, justice, confidentiality, tolerance, transparency, and equity) that would lead to more effective and efficient civic governance. It is not merely fashionable window dressing for building a university capable of facing tomorrow’s challenges. Only shared governance will facilitate decision-making processes that are steeped in ethics. Through ethics in governance, a balance is struck between opposing visions and interests among the various parties, so as to allow universities to fully assume their outreach and regulatory role.
This article is part of a blog series featuring the views of tertiary education experts from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regarding tertiary education in their respective countries as well as the use of the University Governance Screening Card, an innovative tool that enables universities in the region to compare themselves with international standards, define their own unique set of goals and establish benchmarks to assess the progress in achieving them. The University Governance Screening Card (UGSC) was developed under the World Bank/CMI program on tertiary education and applied by 100 universities in the MENA region.