Governance reform in higher education in Asia

06 June 2011
IIEP presented results of its 2010 research study

“Design and Management of higher education systems: the role of steering policies and governance reforms in the management of higher education” is the title of an IIEP research programme launched in 2010 in five Asian countries – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, and Viet Nam – which examines the introduction of increased autonomy and its effects on higher education institutions.

A timely topic in the region

To share the findings from the five case studies and a comparative analysis with policy-makers from the region, a Policy Forum was organized in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 23 and 24 May 2011.

The Policy Forum came at a timely moment since several countries in the region envisage the introduction of increased institutional autonomy in their higher education sector (Indonesia is currently designing a new higher education law). For this reason, in addition to researchers and policy-makers from the five countries studied, policy-makers from Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Thailand participated to the event.

'Autonomy is not an aim in itself, but a means to an end’

The discussions on the case studies were wide ranging and covered multiple aspects. But they revolved around the most important findings of the research study:

  1. Autonomy is a relative notion: The five cases present common elements as well as many differences.  An important commonality is that autonomy means concentration of decision-making power at the institutional level (rector/president with a management team frequently placed under the supervision of a governing body).
  2. Autonomy needs coherent national policies: In the case of decentralized governance (China, Viet Nam, Japan), some countries experience lack of coordination and therefore inconsistencies in the policies and rules and procedures imposed by different layers of authority. When governance is centralized (Cambodia, Indonesia), the coordination of national ministries (finance, public service, and education) was mentioned as extremely important to make sure that there are no obstacles in the implementation of policies aiming at increased autonomy.
  3. Introducing autonomy should  be organized as a process so that HEIs can progressively adapt and learn: Higher education authorities have to keep in mind the objective of equalizing (academic and administrative) capacity levels in the sector with the long term vision to grant increased autonomy to all HE institutions.
  4. Autonomy is not an aim in itself, but a means to an end: The introduction of autonomy should be in line with the national context (including administrative capacities) and be well aligned with an objective to be achieved. There is no model of an ideal governance reform in higher education.

This event was organized jointly with the SEAMEO Regional institute for Higher Education Development (RIHED) and the Directorate General for Higher Education of the Indonesian Ministry of Education.

Photo (from left to right): Michaela Martin, N.V Varghese (IIEP), Djoko Santoso (DGHE Indonesia), Sauwakon Ratanawijitrasin (SEAMEO, RIHED), and  Nizam Nizam (Board of Higher Education, Indonesia).