Management of universities
Management of universities is complicated and contributes to their internal fragmentation
The Learning Makes Sense data suggest that complicated lines of management at public universities seem to cause problems in their management. Proposals for the appointment and dismissal of a rector are submitted by the university senate, to which the rector has primary accountability. The faculty senate elects and removes a dean, and the dean has primary accountability to the senate. Therefore, there is no direct line between the university manager (rector) and managers of university entities (deans). Moreover, performance parameters linked to salaries are set by a different body from that which university managers are accountable to. This body is the management board in the case of rectors, and the rector in the case of deans. In the case of rectors, these performance parameters were known at several universities, but in the case of the deans surveyed, they were not. Insufficient clarity of assessment criteria applied to rectors and deans can pose a problem, because it is not clear what management results are expected from an organisation's manager.
Rectors and deans at public universities are at the top of their universities or faculties, but their proposals and personal nominations (including their closest associates, the vice rectors and vice deans) are often approved by academic senates, and in certain cases also by management boards and scientific councils. The academic senate takes decisions covering academic, economic, legal, personnel and institutional issues. However, according to the interview respondents, only some of the senate members have professional knowledge regarding university operation, and not all of them are high-quality academic staff. According to several deans and rectors, approval of decisions by the senate increases their legitimacy and improves original proposals. However, in crisis circumstances, such as the loss of accreditation or a financial source, this can increase the length of procedures. Senates, which contain members lobbying mostly for the interests of their own workplace, can impede proposals necessary for the institution as a whole but unpopular with some academic staff, such as merging workplaces with a similar focus, introducing interdisciplinary education, research and arts, or centralising and increasing the efficiency of administration and operation. Integrating universities further with their faculties is not supported by some senate members, nor by several deans and heads of departments/institutes, who prefer the autonomous management of their own units.
Only a part of academic society participates in the election to academic senates. Unlike students, who rarely participate, many employees take part in elections to academic senates. It seems also that employees with less work experience both vote and stand as candidates less frequently. At public universities, doctoral candidates are overrepresented among students in the senate, yet their problems resemble more those of academic staff than of students at the 1st and 2nd stage. This disproportionate composition of academic senates can pose a problem, because neither university administration nor senate members perform systemic collection of data related to the needs of all groups within the academic society.
The questionnaire survey findings indicate that the most frequent reason for the low participation of students in school governance is a lack of information about how to get involved and about the work of their representatives in senates. Also, some students are simply not interested in what is happening at their school. Low teacher participation in school governance was caused mainly by other duties they had, and also their fear of revenge by the school management in case they criticised something. This fear was strongest among academic staff with less than 15 years work experience, and full-time doctoral candidates. Also, respondents from both these groups perceived university to be a hierarchical organisation, unlike their student peers at private universities who were much less likely to have a fear of expressing criticism of school management.
Students have at least a third of votes in senates, thus they can influence many issues shaping their school many years ahead. However, survey findings indicate that students perceive these issues as being too abstract. Still, at the level of departments/institutes, where issues related to school subjects or teachers arise, there seems to be no systemic method of engaging students. According to the Act on Universities, students have a right to fill in questionnaires assessing the quality of their study and teachers at least once a year, but it does not seem to be an efficient tool.
Scientific/artistic councils at faculties and universities should stimulate the quality of their pedagogic, scientific and artistic activities. However, data suggest that only some scientific councils have a majority of scientists with above-average performance at international or Slovak level in the case of specific social sciences and humanities. Since the study programmes offered and 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 work of an individual in accordance with the trends in that particular field.
Academic senates at private and state universities are a more consultative body than at public universities, but this does not seem to be a problem for their members. The questionnaire survey even indicates that although students surveyed at private universities vote least frequently, they are much more satisfied with their studies. At private universities, students have opportunities to influence their studies outside the academic senate. At private universities, the lines of management are more straightforward. The owner of the university makes decisions about rectors and deans and is responsible for operational issues, thus freeing university managers to focus more on the academic development of their universities as 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:
Selection of rectors and their powers
Rectors at public universities have a broad agenda, but the systemic regulations do not always provide adequate support
Dean's agenda and position of their faculty within a university
Faculties, as basic elements of universities, have unexploited potential and resemble isolated islands
Election to the employee section of academic senates
In academic self-government, the most active are the senior academic staff
Nature of the employee section at academic senates
Current regulations for senates do not guarantee the professional experience of senate members, nor that their decision making will be to the benefit of the university as a whole
Academic senates and their relation to university management
The relationship between university managements and senates is complicated by the Act on Universities and the internal rules at universities
Students’ representation in academic senates
A large proportion of students in academic senates does not guarantee relevant representation of student opinions
Reasons for low student participation in university governance
Student participation in school governance is limited by lack of information, lack of time and fear of revenge from teachers and school management
Nature of the scientific councils
Scientific councils have large powers and their tasks differ among various universities
The quality of higher education institution research councils
Only a minority of higher education institutions´ research councils is comparable to the international or Slovak average
Public universities have a rather complex system of management. Despite this fact, there is no direct link between rector and faculties on the vertical line of management. This concerns both administrative and operational tasks. On the horizontal line of management, division between the drafting of proposals by the management and their adoption by academic senates poses a problem. Only some students and academic staff participate in senates. Lower participation in university governance by younger academic staff can slow down the development dynamics of their universities. The prevailing absence of students’ voices in shaping their studies can point to the relatively weak role of universities in developing students as active citizens able to solve problems around them. Several questions remain concerning the scientific councils, and these might limit their ability to stimulate quality in education, research and art. Lines of management at private and state universities are more simple. It seems that students at private universities have more opportunities to shape their studies and are more satisfied with their schools. At public universities, which form a majority of universities in Slovakia, it appears management systems have several inefficiencies. These decrease their ability to create optimal conditions for studying and academic work. The relatively closed nature of individual parts of universities works against increasing quality in their education, research and art. It limits options for interdisciplinary activities that would be beneficial for the holistic education of students and exploring complex phenomena. The low degree of internal integration at several universities can limit efficient use of personnel, material and financial resources in administrative and operational tasks at these universities. These resources could be used to improve supporting activities in education, research and art, as well as the universities as a whole. In other words, they are not disposed to improve the operation of universities.