Governance and management in education
Well managed schools create conditions for the high-quality performance of teachers, scientists and artists and thus, they contribute to a quality education for learners at all levels. Although findings from international surveys suggest that inadequate financing is a major problem, it is not the only reason for Slovakia lagging behind in this respect. From pre-primary to secondary schools, and also at universities, management staff do not receive professional skills training. Upon entering a management position in local schools, management staff are required to attend so-called leadership training. However, in the Learning Makes Sense survey, only a small proportion of school principals stated that such training had actually been useful for them in practice. At universities, management staff are prepared for management tasks mostly by performing tasks in more junior positions, with the positive effect of familiarising them with various levels of management. However, it can also contribute to management staff having only a narrow perspective of that particular university, and limited knowledge of other management styles and objectives. Moreover long-term employment at one particular school can lead to deeper ties among staff, and thus impede the adoption of unpopular, though necessary measures.
Management staff have a relatively wide range of powers at their disposal (ranging from personal to professional), but face many barriers in their actual application. One barrier is that, due to wide agenda at schools, management staff have no capacity to focus on the development of quality human resources and the teaching itself, as well as scientific and artistic activities at universities. This can negatively impact the school environment and overall quality of education. At private universities, it seems that owners tackle the economic and operational issues, while rectors and deans focus on academic issues. From the private universities participating in the analysis, all stakeholders perceived such a division of tasks positively.
At local schools, the division of responsibilities between school founders and school principals is unclear, and impedes the further development and regular operation of schools. At private and church-affiliated schools, the school founders usually actively seek information about their education content and outcomes. However, this is often not the case at public schools. In the case of many schools, their school founders perform only activities they are legally bound to perform, e.g. allocating funds, inspecting school financial management, or announcing the election of school principals. Many school founders let schools themselves manage their personal, economic and common operation agenda. However, many school principals lack support in these areas and it impairs their capacity to manage tasks related to teaching and professional issues.
At public universities, rectors and deans responsible for managing respective universities and faculties can only submit their proposals, while academic senates (coupled with management boards in the case of economic issues) approve them, which seems to be a problem. According to some deans and rectors, approval by academic senates makes their proposals more legitimate. However, at some universities, academic senates are places where the interests of particular institutes or faculties are advanced, instead of the overall interests of the universities. It seems that academic senates represent only a portion of students and employees. Combined with an absence of systemic data gathering on the performance of academic institutions, this state of affairs lowers the chances that a university can fully develop its potential. Students present in academic senates have a relatively high influence on issues with a long-term impact on their faculty of the university. However, at lower management levels (department, institute) there are no conditions for the systemic involvement of all students in issues related to the quality and conditions of their studies. Also, the rector as the top manager of a university has no direct influence on what is happening at faculties managed by deans accountable to the senates of their respective faculties. Data suggest that faculties and their additional elements (departments, institutes) tend to work independently of each other and even compete for students and resources. This negatively impacts on the quality of educational, research and artistic activities, as they lose their interdisciplinary nature and ability to solve current complex problems. Moreover, university managements are thus limited in their efforts to effectively manage their operational and administrative tasks. Apart from academic senates, scientific councils at university and faculty level participate in university management. They should stimulate the quality of teaching along with scientific and artistic activities. However, data suggest that only some scientific councils have a majority of scientists with above-average performance at Slovak or international level, specifically in the case of social sciences and humanities. Since the study programmes offered and the scientific and artistic fields vary significantly, it seems that scientific councils tend to base their evaluation of career progress and study programmes on general and quantitative indicators. As a result, they are not always able to evaluate a particular programme or the work of an individual in accordance with the trends in that particular field. Lines of management at private and state universities are more simple. The Learning Makes Sense quantitative data suggest that students at private universities have more opportunities to shape the content and form of their studies, and their overall satisfaction with their studies is higher compared to their peers at public universities.
Analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data from the Learning Makes Sense survey are examined in more detail in the following sections:
School management in regional education
Management of local schools in Slovakia is relatively autonomous, but receives inadequate support
Management of universities
Management of universities is complicated and contributes to their internal fragmentation
An education system which is governed effectively thanks to a set of simple and comprehensible rules and professional management by people with leadership abilities creates conditions for high-quality performance from teachers and academic staff, and the holistic development of learners. The Learning Makes Sense survey findings indicate that quality school management at all education levels is hindered by complex and excessively detailed rules, and the wide scope of their agenda. Indeed, school managers are distracted from the strategic development of their schools and increasing the quality of their educational, scientific and artistic activities. Ineffective school management drains precious financial and personal resources at schools. An unexploited area for school development remains systemic data collection on school operation from various stakeholders’ perspectives. It seems there are no procedures in place for the systemic involvement of students in improving the quality of their education. Since the school management system has various problems, it does not create conditions optimal for high-quality performance from teachers and academic staff, and for the education of learners. Not only the schools themselves bear the costs of this predicament, but society as a whole. Slovakia is thus missing out on high-quality scientific knowledge, people prepared for meaningful lives, and both the incentives and resources for economic, cultural and social development.
Renáta Hall and Peter Dráľ