IIEP E-Forum

Governance reforms in Asia: How to make university autonomy work?

The past two decades have seen rapid expansion and diversification in higher education systems in the Asian region. Within this context, governance reform is expected to align governance structures and processes with the rapidly changing realities of the sector. In particular, it is hoped that granting higher education institutes (HEIs) greater autonomy will enhance their organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

IIEP, as part of an interregional project on the effectiveness of governance reforms, analysed the nature of autonomy and its effects on selected higher education institutions in five Asian countries: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, and Viet Nam, from 2009 to 2011. The countries selected for the research were chosen to provide an interesting variation in terms of political systems, levels of economic and higher education development, and distribution of authority in the higher education system.

The Institute held an Online Forum, from 18 November to 6 December 2013, both to disseminate the findings of its research and to engage policy-makers at national and institutional levels in a discussion on the conclusions. It was also an opportunity for a frank debate among national policy-makers and institutional leaders on how to make university autonomy work for the benefit of the quality and relevance of higher education. A Policy Brief reviewing the findings of IIEP’s study on university autonomy was shared with the participants, as well as a synthesis paper prepared from the five country cases.

The Online Forum focused on three topics:  

  • What measures have been adopted in your country to enhance the autonomy and the accountability of HEIs? 
  • What is the new balance between autonomy and accountability?
  • What have been the desirable and undesirable effects of increased autonomy? Were policies adopted to deal with possible undesirable effects?
  • What are the factors at the national and institutional levels which make increased autonomy work best for the quality and relevance of HEIs?

Some 50 national and institutional policy-makers from 16 countries joined the debate. The lively discussions revealed that, in several Asian countries, major strides have been made towards enhancing autonomy, but that autonomy remains limited in others. A brief report was prepared on the discussions, which synthesizes its findings and highlights.