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|Subject: Component 1. national university system
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Date Posted: 22:33:37 11/02/99 Tue
The Higher Education Plan II could become an incoherent document if it is allowed to accommodate petty ideas and assumptions about too many things. The national university system (Component 1) is a primary example. The document correctly points out the lack of support for it within the higher education industry.
A single national university system is a concept with a theoretical appeal. However, a highly hierarchical model encompassing over 43 institutions (if unrationalized) is prone to many practical difficulties. For example; the idea about 43 institutions reporting to one council could create major administrative bottleneck for the current six universities and their affiliated colleges. The members of the new council would meet more often and demand higher sitting allowances and other perks and privileges. So much time and money would be devoted on meetings and rewriting of the university acts to complement the national university concept.
A centralized regulatory body gives false hopes for increased government funding. There are no indications as to where savings will be made and how government will rechannel the savings back to the university. The public finance management act does not have the provision to reassign freed money from salaries. The government is already committed to K-12 education, health, lawlessness and disorder and the politicians' pocket money (slush fund). Funding has decreased and is drying up, while student intake is poised to rise as a result from the reforms in the secondary education. Increasing demographics is tantamount to putting pressure on all the universities. Unless new funding can come on stream soon, student: faculty ratio must rise.
The planners should rethink the various NEC decisions from 1995, which requested the higher education sector to look for non-government sources of funding and to engage in various entrepreneurial activities. In all probability, this would appear to be the main driving force for deregulation and market like competition. There is therefore reason to pursue the user pays policy and other cost savings measures now. To a surprising degree, the plan proposals appear to be moving away with the proposed creation of specialized schools. Did the planners realize the cost of continuing need for on campus students' accommodation and messing amenities? Why not continue deregulation and allow universities to develop programs that satisfy local needs, and have students stay close to home during their study period?
The one university system stands to discourage private higher education with the two church universities being pulled into the ambit of government. The planners seems to be sailing towards uniformity thus limiting and regulating inter-sector competition for students, course offerings and research. Perhaps they view competition as too noisy and unsettling. Or perhaps they are far too compelled against duplication of similar programs, which looks like waste. But isn't this what market economy is all about? The national university system could end alternative university education.
I detect a major miscalculation and it appears that the planners have diagnosed the organizational structure as the specific problem, which can only be corrected with a regulatory system through a national university system. This concept is headed towards a one central university budget, as roundly advocated in a number of consultancy reports. Such a scenario would put pressure on the government to fork out more funds from an already empty national coffer. A wrong diagnosis ignores the need to raise new funds, which is the real problem facing the universities. planners must explain fully what economies of scale are to be achieved by his national university system; otherwise it should be dropped.
There are numerous reasons to oppose the concept of national university. The argument being that the movement towards national university system and state supervisory model sees university enterprise as an object than as a complex set of subject that can be controlled from outside and moulded with the wishes of government. This is wrong. The state's responsibility should be of oversight and one that acknowledges the fundamental characteristics of individual institutions. The state should use some of these characteristics to stimulate them into business like operation, in earning new money through bonds, commercial companies, professional consultancies, the list continuos…With new monies universities can provide the facility, equipment and the knowledge enterprise which government and individuals can purchase.
Differentiation is the name of the game in university education. Diverse structures should be allowed to accommodate the conflicting tasks than one simple structure. If any advice is worth the effort, the planners should FIRST focus his energy in finding ways to resolve the short term funding gaps that will see the universities through the next five years. Secondly, the planners should lead the way in helping universities develop strategies for the long term financing of higher education outside the state budget.
The national university system can only work if it will provide the universities with the policy environment to reform themselves in response to the changing demographics of the nation and the socio-political and technological needs of society at large. A visible state role could well be a disincentive to the development of higher education and healthy competition among the 43 institutions.
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