25 May 2022

AUN Executive Director delivered his remarks on Governance on Higher Education at WHEC 2022

AUN Writer Team

By Suman Mazumdar, AUN Intern

Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti, the Executive Director of the ASEAN University Network, delivered his pertinent remarks at the roundtable discussion regarding Governance in Higher Education on Thursday, May 19, 2022, as part of UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022 (WHEC2022). The session was moderated by Hon. Kilemi Mwiria, Former Assistant Minister for Education, Kenya and chaired by Dr. Choltis; Flor Pablo Medina- Former Minister of Education, Peru; Hannele Niemi- Professor of University of Helsinki, Finland; and Susanna Karakhanyan- Higher education Policy & Regulation Director of Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge.

The speakers and audience discussed possible avenues to enhance the governance of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the light of growing impediments such as the expansion and commercialization of provision to HEIs; increased accountability to various stakeholder groups; globalization and industrialisation; shifting global political communities; technical advances; an increasing public sector and social networking and media communications; militarized wars; racial prejudice and tribalism; and crisis situations such as the corrupt practices of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The approaches in which HEIs can best establish an admissible amount of autonomy are a fundamental subject of discussion since attempting to balance conflicting internal and external motives could culminate in the decline of organizational autonomy.

According to UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education, governance refers to “…structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, the rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Governance also represents the norms, values, and rules of the game through which public affairs are managed in a manner that is transparent, participatory, inclusive, and responsive. Governance, therefore, can be subtle and may not be easily observable. However, in a broad sense, governance is about the culture and institutional environment in which citizens and stakeholders interact and participate in public affairs. It is more than the organs of the government…”

Dr. Choltis stated that the theme encompasses the dilemma faced by top administrators of universities nearly everyday in their decision making process. Governance is about finding the right balance, for instance, having come from the context of Southeast Asian higher education, universities nowadays are in a dilemma of striking a balance in the ranking or community serving. If we go for rankings, particularly commercial rankings, universities need to go for a lot of deep and excellent academic research. But if we go for serving the needs of the community, most of the time it does not provide scope and time for good research. Some people say that we can choose both but the university top administrators possess a limited budget for which they need to invest wisely. When we go for accountability and transparency, most of the time we get into conflict with managerial effectiveness or efficiency, which do not go well together. There is also an imbalance between managerial effectiveness and participation in governance.

He concluded that the ASEAN region is diverse in culture and democracy is not a common currency. Henceforth, governance in higher education is a kind of mechanism to push democracy into the system. Some countries have the system in which university teachers are a part of the state bureaucracy, so the career path for some top administrators will end up at the ministry as in Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao, and Malaysia. If we do not handle higher education in Southeast Asia well, it can potentially create problems to the world. Quality education is the key to the development of this region. With regards to the budgetary problem, budget allocation is a significant issue for the government taking into consideration the number of universities. Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are left behind the students since the latter are tech savvy and could navigate themselves through online learning better.