Governing wisely – a new higher ed governance guide

Governance in higher education is certainly in the news again and, as recently pointed out here, is still one of those activities that many are talking about but far fewer are actually doing.

To many working in higher education it still remains something of a black box and most are simply unaware of the role, nature, function, composition, power and meeting arrangements of their institution’s governing body. Institutions, in focusing on governance issues, do need to find ways to be much more open and explicit about how governance works and everyone interested in the workings of universities needs to pay much more attention to such matters.

De Montfort’s governance crisis shows how things can go wrong and the importance of a strong focus on effective governance.


Is there an audible version

The publication of a new book on HE governance therefore seems very timely. Governing Higher Education Today – International Perspectives, edited by Tony Strike, Jonathan Nicholls and John Rushforth, a trio of governance heavyweights, offers a range of views on some key governance topics. As the blurb puts it:

International growth in higher education, the introduction of new providers and increased public and state interest in university structures, levels of fees and funding models have made governance in higher education a vital and sometimes controversial topic.
Governing Higher Education Today provides challenging perspectives on the longer-term dynamics and policy trends in a world market for higher education. Through international perspectives and case studies, it considers:

  • The emerging national responses, which are likely to shape institutional governance in the next decade.
  • An analysis of the trends and strategic directions in governance and policy in higher education.
  • Insights from practising thought leaders on the future of higher education governance and policy.
  • Traditions and values within higher education governance.
    Lessons and trends in the interaction of institutions and government.

Whether you sit on a governing body, work in a university leadership role or in a governance or policy team, teach or study higher education, Governing Higher Education Today provides a thoughtful yet practical guide to the future of university governance with international applicability.

There are some really very good contributions in this collection of essays with both the UK and the international perspectives offering some genuinely thoughtful insights.

Jonathan Nicholls focuses on the more recent challenges and issues arising from various HE reports and the latest legislation and addresses the key issue of academic engagement in governance as well as the significant challenges to institutional autonomy currently being faced. Tony Strike’s chapter covers the essential and often overlooked role of the secretary to the governing body.

Douze provinces

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is Stephan van Galen’s on the up and down history of governance in universities in the Netherlands. Absolutely fascinating and a really great insight into a very different higher education tradition. Chris Sayers, who is Chair of the Committee of University Chairs, offers what is very much a chair’s view of the higher education governance world. He rightly observes that the expectations of and pressures on governing bodies are greater than ever before but perhaps strays a little into university leadership – rather than governance –  territory in places.

There is much, much more in here including some excellent insights into governance in Scotland and Wales from Gerry Webber and Bec Davies, strong coverage of all the legal issues from Smita Jamdar and some helpful observations on effectiveness reviews from Andy Shenstone. John Rushforth also discusses the need for governing bodies to get more engaged in the core academic business of teaching and research, historically the exclusive purview of senates – this represents a real challenge to the traditional approach and requires some recalibration.

It’s well worth reading. As I’ve said here before there really aren’t any short cuts to effective governance and no alternatives to doing the hard work. As many of the chapters here demonstrate, university governance is far from straightforward and needs a sustained commitment over time. You’d be wise to get a copy.

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