When one first hears the words “University Governance”, many thoughts come to mind. Is it about governmental supervision or interventions into university’s business? Is it about how universities are managed? Does it parallel what corporates experience under “corporate governance”? Well, it does not involve any governmental overseeing but rather interacts with the national framework of the Ministry of Higher Education; it is more than just management; and it does have some notions from corporate governance (role of boards). In fact, the Center for Mediterranean Integration – CMI, with support from the World Bank’s higher education program and through the contributions of a number of contributors from across the globe has identified five axes to help define the basic dimensions of University Governance. They are:
1. Context, Mission, and Goals
Under each of these dimensions, a set of sub-dimensions and indicators exist. The result is a tool, called the University Governance Screening Card (UGSC), which universities can use to reflect on their University Governance practices. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are first expected to perform a macro-level self-assessment (a quick evaluation of where they believe they are with respect to the five dimensions). Then, HEI’s undergo a micro-level governance examination reflecting a snap-shot of its operations by providing answers to questions under each sub-dimension. Going through this exercise, one immediately identifies a number of lessons:
1. There is no one-model or one-size-fits-all for University Governance. In fact, what works for one university may or may not work for another. The specificities of an institution, its culture, its leadership style, its type (private or public), and its mission have direct impact on how universities are governed.
2. There is a lot more to University Governance than what first meets the eye. The University Governance Screening Card allows an institution to transcend beyond the forest (main dimensions) and see the trees (sub-dimensions and indicators). It is an eye opener on the many and complex issues affecting university governance.
3. University Governance dimensions are not to be thought of as standards or requirements like those listed by accreditation agencies. They are “axes” along which one explores indicators of best practices. Having said that, the issues one addresses under UG are normally elements of an internal quality assurance system and are at the heart of Institutional Effectiveness.
4. It is a holistic view on what universities do and what they don’t do. It gives a total view of how universities conduct themselves, how the various units interact, and how they run their operations.
5. It is about sharing best practices. There is tremendous learning which can be garnered from sharing experiences and seeing how different institutions are dealing with areas requiring attention.
6. It assists universities to think strategically and sustainably. Through asking fundamental questions such as why do we exist, who do we serve, and how we do what we do, universities go through a transformation from the present to the future. The present normally deals with day-to-day issues and challenges, while the future relies on sustainability-founded practices.
7. It is a combination of a top-down and a bottom-up engagement approach of the decision makers of a Higher Education Institution.
8. It ties well to strategic planning for HEI. Anyone who does strategic planning knows that integrating the five dimensions of UG may very well be the basic premise of the situational analysis (environmental scanning).
9. It is about answering to the needs of constituents by engaging all stakeholders in the planning and implementation of continuous improvement efforts.
10. It is about Quality Assurance, quality monitoring, and continuous process improvement.
In summary, going through the exercise of responding to university governance sub-dimensions, emphasis is highlighted on areas which require development and reconsideration. In that regard, UGSC serves as a motivator and a driver of change. Its real value-added feature is its inclusiveness of the many aspects affecting University Governance. An original concept as it might be for our Region, addressing aspects related to its sub-dimensions is a sure path towards improved governance.
Improved governance can only be achieved through initiatives which are mission-centered allowing the institution to live up to its promises by engaging its constituents and by investing in the creation and implementation of systems, policies, and processes.
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.