What does “Good Governance” really mean in higher education?

What does “Good Governance” really mean in higher education?

Visiting a technical institution (one that is focused on mechanics and engineering) in Uganda can be a mixed experience. I imagine the same can be said about many other countries around the world. 

I have been to campuses that have state-of-the-art lab equipment with dedicated staff, and I have also been to others that barely have enough textbooks in their libraries and lab equipment from the 1980s.

Regardless of the type of institution, one thing is certain – even if the buildings are brand new and Internet connected, without good governance practices and strong leadership, technical institutions in Uganda would be less able to provide good higher education services to students. It is why other centres of learning like secondary schools are pulling large numbers of students compared to technical institutions. The only vibrant technical institutions are those that are either private owned or Church founded. It is so unfortunate to see government sponsored and founded technical institutions in a mess.

Over the years, our education system has been as described as a theoretical type of education. It does not impact skills. Analysts say, however there have been many educational reforms like introduction of the Universal Secondary Education program, vocational institutions need proper management if Uganda is to achieve Vision 2040 of reduced youth unemployment.

To provide some more practical advice on how to embody good governance in the higher education sector, seven institutions were visited in different divisions in Kampala (Makindye, Nakawa, Central, and Kawempe) to explore best practices, which are summarized below:  

Trust and delegate
A senior board member at the Ministry of Education and Sports who preferred to remain anonymous says their Board of Governors (BoG) do not get involved in the day-to-day running of the institution, but rather, trust the Head of Institution to make decisions and report back. Though the BoG approves all faculty appointments, the BoG member stated that

a rigorous process is in place and thus trusts the system, making the approval process very streamlined and quick.

This lack of micro-management also rings true for several other institutions, where trust is a key factor in the ability for each level to delegate to the next. At the one of the institutions this writer visited, the director’s mentality was that his job was not to “make” decisions, but rather to “endorse” them.

Document, document, document
While documenting rules, processes and procedures can seem like an overly bureaucratic exercise, the consistency that this codification brings is much more advantageous than relying on the subjective interpretation of various individuals.

For institutions like the private and Church founded, their practices are already documented. They have functional departments like human resource (HR), Finance and Administration, hostels (dorms), e-payments, etc.

While many of these things may already be implicitly understood amongst faculty and students, keeping documentation for routine procedures can limit confusion and disagreement, especially during periods of change.

Always step up your game
Even if an institution has developed a governance plan that does not mean the work is done. High –performing institutions are always refining their goals and adjusting policies to help them improve and get to the next level.

Many institutions set targets for what they want to achieve in five, ten, even fifteen years. Not only do they set these objectives, but they also outline plans that will get them there. In other words, it’s not enough to strategize, but to take action. The greatest success lies in implication and execution of the agreed milestones in the strategy. All organizations have strategy, what makes the difference is execution. Private and church founded institutions are always ahead of government funded because they put into action of their strategy.

Knowing vs. doing
Understanding good governance and living good governance are two different things.

A student might have a clear plan for how she is going to pursue a degree, but chances are, reality will get in the way. Similarly, an institution might have a blueprint of how it is going to move forward with its governance model, but that blueprint will sit in a file cabinet for years while the status quo persists.

Taking small steps by modelling from the top, or just promoting good documentation – all of that can lead to behavioural changes that slowly become embedded, transforming the institution over time.