The term governance indicates the formal
and informal arrangements allowing higher education institutions
to make decisions and take action. It includes external governance,
which refers to relations between individual institutions and their
supervisors, and internal governance, which refers to lines of authority
within institutions. Governance overlaps considerably with management;
the latter is seen as the implementation and execution of policies,
and is dealt with primarily under Tools for Achieving Good
Formal governance is official and explicit. Informal
governance refers to the unwritten rules that govern how people
relate to each other within higher education: the respect accorded
professors and administrators, the freedom to pursue research, the
traditions of student behavior, to name a few. It is vital to articulate
the rights and responsibilities of various actors and to set rules
that determine their interaction in a way that is consistent with
achieving quality higher education.
The Task Force believes it is difficult to exaggerate
the importance of good governance for higher education, with a significant
number of those we consulted believing it to be the key issue. Good
governance is not a sufficient condition for achieving high quality,
but it is certainly a necessary one. Governance sets the parameters
for management. No mismanaged enterprise can flourish, and institutions
of higher education are no exception.
Although higher education has much to learn from the
worlds most successful businesses and government organizations,
it differs significantly from these institutions. It has unique
attributes developed over centuries many of the oldest continually
functioning institutions in the world are universities and
these must be carefully fostered. Higher education institutions
rely on individual initiative and creativity, and these need time
and space to develop. The institutional time horizon is usually
much longer than in industry, with the bottom line blurred. Collegiality
is a value to be cultivated, alongside considerable academic autonomy.
In low- and middle-income countries, significant work is still needed
to develop academic systems of governance that meet the needs of
faculty, students, and wider society.
Major Principles of Good Governance
Traditions of governance differ from country to country.
In some, a system-wide approach predominates over an individualistic,
institutional approach. The European or continental system of higher
education, for example, has been based largely on a state supervision
model. As discussed in Chapter 3, some developing countries are
moving from state control toward a state-supervised system, with
the transition mediated by intermediary or buffer mechanisms allowing
active participation by key players in higher education. Considerable
differences are also apparent between public and private institutions,
with Latin America diluting the European model as a growing number
of private institutions challenge the role of the state within the
higher education system.
Individual institutions within each country also have
their own governance traditions, ranging from hierarchical to cooperative
governance models. American universities, for example, use a relatively
hierarchical (unitary) style and give great power to
presidents and other executives. The European tradition has weaker
executives. As each institution is different, so is the way it is
governed. A research university, for example, will surely have a
different model from a junior college or vocational school.
Despite these many variations, the Task Force believes
the following set of principles has general and lasting applicability.
Academic freedom is "the right of scholars to pursue their
research, to teach, and to publish without control or restraint
from the institutions that employ them" (The Columbia Encyclopedia).
Without it, universities are unable to fulfil one of their prime
functions: to be a catalyst and sanctuary for new ideas, including
those that may be unpopular. Academic freedom is not an absolute
concept; it has limits and requires accountability. It recognizes
the right of academics to define their own areas of inquiry and
to pursue the truth as they see it. Academic freedom can make a
significant contribution to promoting the quality of both institutions
and the system as a whole, but it needs to be understood and respected,
both within institutions and by the bodies to which they are accountable.
Shared governance, also known as cooperative governance, is a necessity.
It arises from the concept of relative expertise and aims to ensure
that decisions are devolved to those who are best qualified to take
them. At the system level, it entails giving institutions or their
advocates a role in shaping national higher education policy. At
the institutional level, it ensures faculty is given a meaningful
voice in determining policy. This applies particularly to educational
policy, and especially to curriculum development and academic appointments.
The internal governance of universities requires professionals,
or rather individuals who understand how institutions can best perform
their academic duties. In nearly all circumstances, individuals
with advanced academic training and experience are the best choice
for performing these tasks. The use of inexperienced outsiders can
be, and frequently has been, damaging. This is not intended to question
the legitimacy of external supervision of colleges and universities.
That is external governance and is legitimately the realm of non-specialists
who represent the public will. Ultimately, however, good decisions
must be rooted in legitimate professional concerns, with experience
showing that shared governance is closely related to institutional
The role of students within a system of shared governance can be
controversial. Students are a transient population whose stay at
educational institutions lasts only a few years, while faculty members
and administrators tend to remain at institutions for long periods.
Faculty and administrators therefore have natural authority over
students in many matters of internal governance, particularly with
respect to academic matters such as admissions standards, grading
policy, and degree requirements.
Students, however, can play a role in areas that affect their lives
and in which they have competence to provide constructive input.
In non-academic areas, this would include extra-curricular activities,
and the administration of housing and student services. In academic
areas, too, there is an appropriate role for student input, including
in the areas of program offerings, teacher evaluation, and infrastructure
Clear rights and responsibilities
Mutually agreed rights and responsibilities for each element in
the higher education system are essential for good governance. Externally,
the roles of ministries of education and higher education institutions
must be clearly articulated by law and in national policy documents.
Internally, the faculty, students, administrators, external supervisors,
and others should have a clear understanding of their rights and
responsibilities. Where traditions of higher education are new,
as in many developing countries, it is especially important that
roles are explicit, through clear laws and institutional charters
designed as social contracts.
Higher education can only function if the selection and promotion
of faculty, administrators, and students is based on broadly defined
merit. The particular goals of an institution may affect how it
assesses merit, but ideology, nepotism, cronyism, or intimidation
cannot be allowed to determine advancement. Selection decisions
must be autonomous, made within the institution by those closest
to the issues, with peer review and wide consultation helping to
set appropriate merit standards. Decision-making by distant bureaucrats
or politicians is not to be encouraged, with legal barriers that
prevent the recognition of merit being especially unhelpful. In
Venezuela and some other countries, for example, a raise for one
faculty member in one institution leads, by law, to the same raise
for all faculty members of equal rank in all institutions. In some
instances, fortunately infrequent, professors are the greatest barriers
to progress and change in these matters. If that happens, the governing
authorities must ensure the presence of strong internal leadership
that can push through change.
Higher education institutions require sufficient financial stability
to permit orderly development. Financial uncertainty, sharp budgetary
fluctuations, and political favoritism hinder good governance and
make rational planning impossible. The importance of higher education
as a public good must be matched by adequate public investment to
enable institutions to discharge their public responsibilities.
The provider of financing can also undermine autonomy, with major
sponsors trying to influence the activities of higher education
institutions. This is a particular danger in developing countries,
where a single institution such as the state or a religious entity
tends to contribute a relatively large share of the resources available
to higher education institutions.
Higher education institutions must be accountable to their sponsors,
whether public or private. Accountability does not imply uncontrolled
interference, but it does impose a requirement to periodically explain
actions and have successes and failures examined in a transparent
fashion. All interaction should occur within the context of agreed
rights and responsibilities. Buffer mechanisms, as already discussed,
may be needed to help determine the appropriate balance between
autonomy and accountability.
Regular Testing of Standards
Those responsible for governance should regularly test and verify
standards of quality. This is part of institutional accountability,
but is of sufficient importance to list as a separate principle.
Broad consultation should be practiced and standards should be widely
agreed upon. Benchmarking is useful in this regard, while peer review
encourages the attainment of benchmarks.
The Importance of Close Cooperation
Effective governance requires close cooperation and compatibility
between different levels of institutional administration. A useful
rule would state that for significant appointments the individual
in a supervisory position, for example a dean, has a formal role
more than merely a voice in selecting the appointee,
for example a chairperson. This could prevent counterproductive,
adversarial situations, a special problem where the tradition of
The Actual Situation
Systems of governance must take institutional goals into account,
and not all principles apply with equal force to all institutions
of higher education. In research universities, the full set is most
important, whereas academic freedom or shared governance may be
less important in vocational schools. For-profit, private education
as noted above, a rapidly growing sector presents
special problems. These businesses are responsible to investors
seeking financial gains, but must also accommodate these principles
within their business model if they are to play their part in the
wider higher education system.
Despite these variations, it is abundantly clear that these principles
are essential, and also equally clear that they are routinely violated
across the world, in rich and poor countries alike. They are probably
violated with greater frequency in developing countries, as in these
- A senior observer of the African scene told the Task Force
that "With the government in many countries having assumed
the power to appoint and dismiss the Vice-Chancellor, governance
in the universities has thus become a purely state control system...
There are countries where even deans and department heads are
also appointed by government and where heads of institutions change
with a change in government."
- In China, the presidents of two leading universities, Beijing
and Tsinghua, are appointed directly by the State Council, comprising
the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, acting upon the recommendation
of the Communist Party.
- The Civic Education Project, a US-based, non-governmental organization
operating in parts of the former Soviet Union, commented to the
Task Force "Hiring practices in universities are ad hoc and
personnel are under the influence of high officials in the President's
office or the Ministries of Education. Higher administrative authorities
can hire or fire any staff or teacher as and when they wish. Teachers
have hardly any voice and influence in reforming the higher education
system. Students are rarely considered as part of the higher education
administrative process. They are never consulted on any matter
related to their education. Decisions are made from the top and
imposed on the subordinate bodies. There is no public debate or
discussion on the reform of higher education. Even in the most
reform-minded central Asian states, the press and media are controlled
by governments and there is no open social dialogue or debate
on reform in such a crucial sector of national life as higher
- Between the early 1980s and 1996, the total number of higher
education institutions in El Salvador increased from six to 42.
Many of these were low-quality, 'garage' universities, resulting
from poor external governance. Despite a law calling for close
regulation of universities by the Ministry of Education, supervision
was in practice quite lax, with institutions not required to demonstrate
their competency to provide education.
These examples are typical and point to poor governance as a particular
obstacle to the improvement of quality in the developing world.
Why Governance is a Special Problem in Developing Countries
Higher education institutions inevitably reflect the societies
in which they operate. When a country suffers from deep rifts, these
will be present on the campus. Undemocratic countries are unlikely
to encourage shared governance in higher education. A society in
which corruption is prevalent cannot expect its higher education
institutions to be untainted. External factors, in other words,
easily overwhelm institutional efforts to promote change and are,
of course, especially difficult to change.
For many of the countries in the developing world, political leaders
at the start of independence exhibited little understanding and
sometimes little sympathy for the needs of university education.
However, at independence and still today, most problems faced by
developing countries were believed to require some degree of government
guidance and supervision. Higher education was no exception, leading
to policy-makers, with little sympathy to its needs, managing it
in the same way they managed roads, the army or customs. The failure
to recognize the importance of taking the long-term view undermined
the higher education sectors performance and inhibited the
development of governance traditions. The proliferation of new institutions
in most developing countries has now diluted whatever useful traditions
existed and also created shortages of qualified personnel.
The tendency of politicians to intervene in higher education left
many institutions hostage to factional policies, with decisions
on student selection, faculty appointment and promotion, curriculum
design, and similar matters, being made on political grounds rather
than on merit. In addition, many country leaders undoubtedly saw
universities as sources of political danger, with students playing
a relatively active political role in many countries. Governments
may fear students because they know that these young people could,
under certain circumstances, overthrow a regime. Therefore many
governments expect universities to contain student political activism,
further corrupting the governance systems within institutions.
Simultaneously, political activism means that students are spending
a large proportion of their time on politics rather than education.
The Task Force believes strongly that higher education institutions
should allow opinions on the broader issues that face society to
be expressed and debated respectfully. Student awareness and debate
should therefore be encouraged. There are situations, however, where
levels of activism can rise to the point where high-quality education
becomes impossible. In Africa and elsewhere, students facing the
prospect of underemployment or unemployment upon graduation have
demonstrated during examinations to prolong their stay in school.
In situations such as these, where academic pursuits have been taken
hostage, activism may need to be restricted.
In conclusion, there are clearly many obstacles in the path of
achieving good governance within the higher education systems of
developing countries. Despite this, there are also many tools to
Tools for Achieving Good Governance
The term governance refers to a large set of specific policies
and practices. The Task Force does not offer an exhaustive treatment
of governance and managerial tools, but attempts to demonstrate
available options and their respective advantages and disadvantages.
At the system level, the first priority is to reach agreement on
the nature of the governance model to be used. At an institutional
level, there should be clarity over the legal framework, and an
understanding of the principles of central governance. Decisions
can then be made, at system and institutional levels, about which
are the best mechanisms or tools to make the proposed model work
Faculty Councils (or Senates)
Faculty councils are representative bodies of faculty members responsible
for making decisions about selected matters of academic policy,
such as programs offered, curricula, degree requirements, and admissions
policy. Delegating powers to a faculty council (or senate) promotes
shared governance by limiting the extent to which higher education
institutions are run on a top-down basis.
Governing Councils (or Boards of Trustees)
A governing council is an independent body that acts as a buffer
between a higher education institution and the external bodies to
which the institution is accountable, such as the state and religious
or secular sponsors. These bodies represent the institution to the
outside world, but at the same time represent the outside world
to the institution. Critically, they help insulate higher education
institutions from excessive external interference.
A governing council needs to think for the future, and it will
often be involved in developing long-term plans for an institution,
and monitoring their implementation. Appointments to the council
need to be for long periods, allowing council members to act independently
and remain insulated from short-term political developments. Membership
should be mixed, with a significant number of members drawn from
outside the academic community.
Similar bodies can be tied to subject areas, rather than institutions.
National foundations for the natural sciences, the social sciences,
and the humanities can sit between the government and the university
sector. Their independence allows them to implement merit-based
procedures for allocating resources that are relatively immune to
Budget Practices and Financial Management
Creating a transparent, logical and well-understood set of rules
for budgeting and accounting can have an enormous influence on the
operation and performance of higher education institutions. Rules
should encourage flexibility, stability, and transparency. In many
institutions across the world, bureaucratic rigidity results in
inefficiency and waste. Allowing the flexibility, for example, for
institutions to carry surpluses from one year to the next, or to
transfer funds from one budgetary category to another, may counter
the use-it-or-lose-it attitude referred to in Chapter 1 and lead
to a better planned allocation of limited funds. Stability is increased
by setting multi-year budgets, allowing higher education institutions
to extend their planning horizons and expand their set of feasible
options. Flexibility helps promote stability when financial rules
allow institutions to accumulate capital assets from private sources,
and to build endowments whose annual income can be projected far
into the future. Transparency, finally, is at the heart of budgeting
and financial management and is especially important in situations
where corruption is undermining the higher education sector.
Data for Decision Making
Without good data, good decision-making is impossible. Higher education
institutions need a plethora of data on teaching and research performance,
student achievement, institutional financial status, and so on.
Data are also essential for systems of monitoring and accountability,
which allow institutional autonomy while promoting competition and
the drive for higher standards.
Higher education needs to take advantage of advances in information
technology, which greatly facilitate data collection and analysis.
With good data, organized in a readily accessible information system,
they will be able to improve their policy-making, ensuring decisions
are based on evidence and are taken in a way that is clear and understandable
to the outside world.
Appointment or Election?
Election of academic leaders is common in many universities across
the world, although it often results in weak leadership and a consequent
prejudice in favor of the status quo. Appointed leaders, meanwhile,
are less likely to allow their programs to be stalled by lack of
consensus and are better placed to make unpopular decisions when
required. However, they can lack widespread support, diluting a
sense of shared governance. In-depth consultation with all stakeholders
helps ease this problem and increases the appointed leaders
The Task Force believes that universities in the developing world
urgently need strong leadership, whatever selection method is employed.
On the whole, it is in favor of strengthening appointing powers
within university administrations, in order to allow strong leaders
Faculty Appointment and Promotion Decisions
Faculty quality is generally accepted as the most important determinant
of the overall quality of a higher education institution. Nepotism,
cronyism, and inbreeding are powerful enemies of faculty quality.
The practice of rewarding length of service, rather than academic
performance and promise, is also to be discouraged.
The Task Force wishes to emphasize the importance of external peer
review in making appointments to faculty and deciding on promotion.
Evaluation of faculty research by qualified outsiders allows its
quality to be judged on proper technical grounds. Assessments are
also more likely to be free of conflicts of interest. Peer review
also promotes the quality of publication decisions and the efficient
allocation of research funds.
The system of peer review has been developed within research universities.
Functional equivalents need to be developed for institutions with
different missions. Institutions must develop clear indicators to
assess the quality of their organizational objectives. For example,
faculties can be systematically evaluated on their success in teaching
or imparting vocational skills. Regular inspections by 'client'
representatives can also prove useful.
Security of Employment
Security of employment is important within higher education institutions.
It offers faculty members greater academic freedom than if they
could be dismissed at will or were hired on a year-to-year basis.
It also acts as a form of non-wage compensation, with talented individuals
attracted to secure jobs, even when they could earn more lucrative
The Task Force recommends long-term contracts, though not necessarily
indefinite ones. Periodic reviews are also important, allowing faculty
members to be discharged if their performance is substandard.
In some circumstances, however, faculty appointments without any
time limit may be appropriate. This system, commonly known as tenure,
has advantages and disadvantages. Tenure has been criticized on
the grounds that it undermines the performance incentives of tenured
faculty, whose appointments are rarely revoked, and even then only
in cases of gross neglect, incapacity, morally reprehensible behavior,
or urgent financial circumstances. By contrast, tenure is defended
as being a great promoter of academic freedom, allowing faculty
to pursue potentially risky and unpopular lines of research, without
fear of job loss. Its proponents also argue that tenure and prestige
are non-pecuniary employment conditions that allow higher education
institutions to compete effectively for the services of the brightest,
most creative, and most highly motivated members of society.
Tenure has a place in highly politicized environments, where finite-term
contracts could be subject to abuse by key institutional decision-makers.
It can also strengthen the capacity and potential of research universities,
with their more speculative and uncertain process of basic knowledge
generation. Decisions about tenure must be taken with particular
care. Extensive, independent, and external evidence of scholarly
achievement and promise is needed, with assessments carried out
by those with the technical skills that qualify them to make such
Faculty Compensation and Responsibilities
Many faculty members have specialized skills that are valued in
the job market. This allows them to engage in remunerative professional
activities outside their home institutions in order to supplement
typically low salaries. In other cases, for example in Latin America,
faculty members are forced to seek part-time appointments at several
institutions, as full-time appointments are not available.
Outside work can promote professional development by providing
inspiration for new research and better teaching materials. It also
helps institutions to develop valuable contacts with the private
sector that may lead to job opportunities for students or the opportunity
for public/private collaborations. There is a downside, however.
Outside activities can easily detract from performance and weaken
commitment to an institution. Academic staff become less available
to students, colleagues, and administrators, and the institutional
culture is damaged. Faculty moonlighting is therefore rightly regarded
as one of the more serious problems faced by higher education in
Tackling this issue usually means raising pay, and nearly all developing
countries will need to improve compensation if they are to achieve
greater quality in their higher education systems. Moving to a system
of full-time appointments may also be useful, combined with clear
limits on outside activity: for example, no more than one day of
outside activity (paid or unpaid) per week, with prior approval
required. Institutions need to be careful when imposing limits on
outside consultancy, however. If pay levels are low, they risk driving
away the more able members of their faculty.
Faculty quality is also greatly threatened when compensation is
determined by rigid formulas that fail to account for external labor
market opportunities a problem that is common in professional
schools and institutes of technology. Salary systems must be flexible
across disciplines: the market for talent has to be taken into account.
Visiting Committees and Accreditation
Visiting committees, consisting of recognized national or international
experts, can be an important tool for monitoring institutional performance
and promoting the responsible exercise of authority. By conducting
independent reviews, visiting committees provide objective assessments
of the achievements of faculties or academic programs in relation
to an appropriate regional, national, or international standard.
The cost of visiting committees can be prohibitive for many institutions,
and it may be valuable for the public sector to subsidize these
visitations for all types of schools including for-profits
so as to encourage higher standards throughout the system.
Even if only a few of the upper-tier institutions use visiting committees,
the effects can be felt throughout the whole system if there are
strong links and open competition between institutions.
International standards of accreditation for example, those
used by external examiners also promote institutional quality.
Internally, they provide a focus for improving standards and help
create a sense of institutional pride. Externally, they provide
the market information that is vital to competition. Being 'accredited'
has great value in attracting students, faculty, and other resources.
El Salvador provides a notable example of the power of accreditation.
In December 1995, the government started to tackle the proliferation
of low-quality universities by establishing a new system of accreditation.
Institutions that did not satisfy specific statutory requirements
within 24 months were subject to closure, and the authorities had
actually closed 11 institutions by early 1998 (with a program for
relocating the displaced students). With the cooperation of Salvadoran
universities, the Ministry of Education also established a system
of self-study and peer review, including the training of 120 volunteer
peer reviewers. The Task Force applauds this kind of system, which
generates objective information that the public can use to judge
the merits of competing higher education institutions.
Institutional Charters and Handbooks
An institutional charter establishes the legal basis and defines
the mission of a higher education institution. It also sets forth
rules governing its relations with the state or a private sponsor,
and may specify some internal rules of operation as well. It centers
the institution and sets the tone for all of its other activities.
Faculty and student handbooks can be an important tool for promoting
good internal governance. They must be comprehensive, clearly written,
and frequently updated. Faculty handbooks should typically include
a general statement of faculty rights and responsibilities, along
with detailed information to guide the conduct of faculty members
with respect to their teaching and research activities, their participation
in the broader life of the institution, and their outside professional
activities. Student handbooks generally define the objectives, rules,
and requirements of different academic programs, as well as students
non-academic rights and responsibilities.
Good governance promotes educational quality. Traditions of governance
vary from country to country and by type of institution, but the
Task Force has suggested a set of basic principles that promote
good governance across a wide variety of situations. Unfortunately
these principles are frequently not observed, especially in developing
countries, and especially where traditions of higher education are
still not firmly established. The Task Force has therefore offered
a number of tools that will help higher education systems and institutions
move closer to the application of these principles.
Good governance may be crucial, but it is not a panacea. In many
parts of the world, pedagogy takes the form of canned lectures by
professors and rote memorization by students; cheating is rampant
and tolerated; and letters of recommendation are for sale. Shared
governance does not guarantee quality if a tyrannical majority is
determined to prevent progress. Perhaps most importantly, quality
is not likely to be achieved as long as professors are forced to
moonlight as a consequence of inadequate pay.
The Task Force hopes that higher education policy-makers will start
to make better use of the tools of good governance. They will not
solve all problems quickly. But they will start the process of achieving
sustainable and far-reaching improvement.