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The managerial approach to higher education governance has been around for the last 20 years or so. One aspect of managerialism is the centralization of decision-making. In itself, centralization is not necessarily a bad thing. It can create efficiencies and result in more effective decision-making. However, when the structure results in a divide between the academic and administrative areas, the ones who can suffer most are the students.
Trust and Respect is Absolutely at the Core of What Makes an Organization Successful
Developing relationships built on trust and respect is absolutely at the core of what makes an organization successful. Relationships are also developed around sharing common knowledge and understandings so people tend to form groupings with close, like-minded others.
Higher education students generally talk about what study area they are enrolled in, for example nursing, agriculture, business etc. The academics tend to associate with the discipline they teach and research in. Academics and students connect with these meaningful communities rather than some vast structure with built in layer upon layer of bureaucracy and commensurate positions responsible for controlling it.
Higher Education Institutions Should be Places that Support Students to Achieve Professional Knowledge
Higher education institutions first and foremost should be places of learning that support students to achieve professional knowledge, skills and understandings. A fundamental requisite to make this a reality for students is for a strong, positive relationship to be built between them – the learners, and the Faculty members who are facilitating the learning.
Behind the scenes, faculties need the backing of various central administrative support units to ensure for example, the student timetable works, exams are properly scheduled and student results are released on time. But it is the Faculty staff whom students develop a trusting relationship with over the space of 3 or more years, not a separate central administrative unit. The greatest connection for students during their study is established with those who are directly involved in their program delivery, namely faculty – discipline – program staff.
Some institutions in their wisdom have removed critical decision-making that impacts on a student’s successful learning journey, away from faculties to central administrative units. In such institutions there is separation not unification or complementarity of academic and non-academic unit functions.
Sensible Structures are Collegial, Transparent, Responsible, and Supportive
What works best is an organizational structure with clear, cohesive sectors everyone understands. Everybody knows where he or she fits, where to go for support, who they report to and the lines of communication are unequivocal. That’s what students and academics alike want and expect. Sensible structures are not impersonal, opaque, alienating and autocratic. They are collegial, transparent and responsible and above all else, they ensure provision of a supportive learning environment where students can achieve success.
Lucubrate Magazine Octoner 2021
The picture of the top of the article: Adobe Stock