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27 August 2018 Photo Sonia Small
Prof Thuli Madonsela persuades women to pursue their purpose
Discovering that she was “pretty” for her purpose gave Prof-Adv Thuli Madonsela’s life direction.

What does embracing womanhood mean? For Prof Thuli Madonsela it is about loving yourself and whatever you believe is your purpose in life. 

“All of us are designed for our purpose and are fit for our purpose, you should embrace that and make the best of it,” said South Africa’s former Public Protector in her keynote address to the Women’s Breakfast. In commemoration of Women’s Month, the University of the Free State (UFS)’s Employee Wellness Division hosted the annual event on 21 August 2018 where 900 women gathered under the theme: ‘Embrace your womanhood.’ 

Being a woman today

Law Professor and Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, Prof Madonsela, urged the audience to look beyond the exterior and recognise “that we as individuals have a lot in common”. Speaking of unity in diversity, she praised some of the giants on whose shoulders modern women stand, such as Charlotte Maxeke, Olive Schreiner, Una Wookey, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Joseph, Pam Golding, Bessie Head, and Ellen Khuzwayo.

These leaders are the epitome of following the purpose of “embracing everyone’s humanity and challenging things that diminish the humanity of others”, according to Prof Madonsela.

Remaining resilient and resolute 

Despite having to contend with a patriarchal system and face challenges such as gender-based violence, femicide, poverty, inequity, media stereotypes, as well as poverty, women continue to rise. Prof Madonsela called for women to capitalise on positives such as freedom and possessing a certain degree of power, legal equality, playing a role in political spaces, economic progress, and owning a public voice.

Drawing inspiration from her humble beginnings and the lessons learnt in leadership, Prof Madonsela conveyed a simple message to all women: “You are exactly as you should be. You are a perfect expression of your creator’s magnificence. You were created for a purpose and whatever you do, just step up and pursue your purpose.”

A word from an inspired woman

It was a memorable event for Burneline Kaars, Head of Employee Wellness. “This year it was an honour to host Prof Madonsela who could share both her academic background and professional experience. She accomplished this by skilfully incorporating lessons from our country’s history and her passion for justice,” she said.

News Archive

Autonomy and accountability: keeping the balance in South African higher education

Inaugural lecture by Professor Magda Fourie
University of the Free State
3 November 2004

1. Introduction:
“The university in crisis”, “the university in ruins”, “will universities become relics?” – these are phrases and questions that are becoming increasingly common, not only in scientific journals but also in newspapers and popular literature. Worldwide higher education has become newsworthy. Universities suddenly have to justify their existence not only to government officials, but also to students, employers and the general public. .

In South Africa too, newspapers have over the past few months regularly carried reports on higher education. The new Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, has been quoted as ‘launching a scathing attack’ on higher education institutions (Star 4 October 2004), the Minister of Labour has expressed his concerns about the skills mismatch, and Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s lecture: Accounting for autonomy made headlines several weeks ago. Why are questions being raised about the effectiveness and relevance of higher education? Why are politicians, employers and the general public disillusioned with higher education? Why is the criticism of universities by government, employers, students and the public increasingly harsh and vociferous? Should higher education serve the new social order and meet pressing national needs? How should universities respond to the demands for human resource development, high-level skills training and the production, acquisition and application of new knowledge?

All of the above questions pertain directly or indirectly to the topic of this address: autonomy and accountability of higher education in the twenty-first century. And in the centenary year of the University of the Free State, these are questions and issues that deserve our incisive consideration.

In 2004, ten years after South Africa’s first democratically elected government was put in place, the higher education system is still far from the policy ideal of a single, co-ordinated system giving effect to and balancing the principles of equity and excellence. While having to overcome past inequities and historical divisions, South African universities are at the same time, like higher education institutions across the world, being influenced by factors such as globalisation, the information explosion, the diversification of the student body, the shift from teaching to learning, new approaches to governance and decision making, increased demands for accountability, etc. The challenge to SA higher education is that two sets of demands have to be satisfied at the same time: those emanating from the global knowledge economy and internationalisation and those posed by the unique political and socio-economic history of our country. This then is the context in which I shall examine autonomy and accountability of higher education.

2. Conceptualisation:

Institutional autonomy

When discussing autonomy and accountability, it is important that we clarify what we understand under these concepts. At first glance, the definition of autonomy seems clear enough. Derived from the Greek words for ‘self’ and ‘law or customary usage’, the word describes the practice of self-government that is considered the right and responsibility of universities.

A distinction can be drawn between individual autonomy and institutional autonomy. Whereas individual autonomy or academic freedom pertains to the who, the how and the to whom of teaching and research by the individual academic, institutional autonomy refers to the relative freedom of a university to conduct its own affairs free from outside interference, whether from the state, the market, donors or other stakeholders. The concept of institutional autonomy has two dimensions: substantive and procedural autonomy: Substantive autonomy is the power of the university to determine its own goals and programmes – the what of academe, whereas procedural autonomy is the power of the university to determine the means by which its goals and programmes will be pursued – the how of academe. The essential ingredients of institutional autonomy include:

freedom to select staff and students and determine the conditions under which they remain in the university

freedom to determine curriculum content and degree standards; and

freedom to allocate funds (within the amounts available) across different categories of expenditures (Berdahl 1990).

In practice autonomy is always relative, and what universities should seek is reasonable, not absolute autonomy. Albornoz (1991:205) argues that autonomy requires “striking a delicate balance between the need to respond to the requirements of society, while at the same time satisfying the needs specific to the institution itself.” It is virtually unthinkable today that universities would fail to acknowledge the vital role that they play in all spheres of national development; yet inevitably some measure of autonomy is sacrificed as social engagement increases.

In the United States colleges and universities have traditionally enjoyed a high level of institutional autonomy. Even in states where some measure of centralized coordination has been imposed through the creation of state-wide systems or accreditation agencies, individual institutions have remained largely independent and free of government interference. But even here the role of the government in establishing mechanisms capable of encouraging universities to improve productivity, efficiency and accountability is a priority in the field of education policy for the years to come (Mora 2001:105).

The European experience, except for the United Kingdom, has been different. Traditionally controlled by ministries of education exercising strong, centralized authority, European universities have a much weaker tradition of institutional autonomy. But since the beginning of the 1980s universities in continental Europe have been afforded greater measures of autonomy because governments have realized that it would be counterproductive and difficult to continue to exercise strict control in today’s changing world. Increasing autonomy is also the product of a new approach to the management of public institutions (new public management/neo-institutionalism) currently adopted in many European countries (Mora 2001:105). Greater autonomy has not been offered with no strings attached, however, but has been accompanied by demands for internal efficiency, improved internal management systems, quality assurance measures, better fulfillment of market requirements and so forth. For many European universities, greater autonomy has thus turned out to be a mixed blessing.

In Africa universities have traditionally had relatively low levels of autonomy, and governmental involvement in university affairs was the norm. Ministers could directly affect the structure and governance of universities, as legislation commonly designated the President of the country as Chancellor of all universities and the state would then appoint the Vice-Chancellor and senior administrators. These measures of control would be further bolstered by the President’s role in designating the composition of university councils and other policy-making bodies. Structures of this kind usually helped to ensure compliance with government intervention in university activities (Bjarnason & Lund 1999). At a recent ACU Programme for Leadership and Management in African higher education delegates indicated that in some countries there are signs of less government interference and increasing institutional autonomy. Here too, the inability of governments to fund higher education at sustainable levels, has necessitated a loosening of the reins.

2.2 Public accountability

Traditionally the environment has played very little, if any, direct role in shaping the goals and activities of universities – they have been regarded as autonomous bodies, “well placed to determine for themselves how best to serve society, albeit while taking account of external views” (Allen 1988:124). But the situation is changing. Balderston (1995:8) points out that there is an increased awareness of inter-dependence in contemporary society, and all types of organizations, including higher education institutions, are obliged to function in a more explicit and justifiable manner. Furthermore, public confidence in higher education has been dwindling in many countries and it is now clear that higher education institutions should be accountable to the community through various controlling agencies. The basis for this conviction is that accountability is owed to society because society is both the major funder and the major beneficiary of higher education (Tight 1988:130).

Even if there is general agreement on the principle of accountability, much difference of opinion persists regarding to whom and how universities should be held accountable. It could be argued, for example, that universities are not only accountable to society for generating, disseminating and applying knowledge and producing responsible citizens (the so-called public good), but also to students, employers and parents for providing relevant education and training and addressing the human resource needs of the country. Universities are finding themselves being pushed and pulled in a number of different directions by groups of stakeholders and are increasingly finding it impossible to be all things to all possible constituencies. Not the least of these challenges is their relationship with the state.

3. The relationship between higher education and the state

Autonomy and accountability are both primarily concerned with the relationship between universities and the state. To form an understanding of this relationship, one needs to clarify the role of the state in society and in the education system. The state has a variety of purposes that are legitimated by serving the interests and values of the individuals that make up the society, collectively represented by the values inherent in that society and its culture(s). One of the purposes of the state is the development of an education system. In fulfilling its obligation to serve the welfare of all its people, the state has to create a coherent and well-structured education system and has to provide both the financial and physical resources required to operate the system. Higher education as a public good is thus worthy of – and in fact requires – public investment.

The relationship between higher education and the state is always a contested one. No country in the world can escape from the tension that exists between a desirable (and necessary) degree of institutional autonomy and academic freedom versus the legitimate rights of governments to generate a certain level of control (accountability) over universities that are predominantly publicly financed. Conceding that some measure of government control over higher education is necessary, the question to be considered is how much control and how it should be exercised.

The concept of ‘governmental steering’ is often used to describe the control of government over higher education. According to Maassen and Van Vught governmental steering pertains to the influencing of behavior or attempts to steer the decisions and actions of higher education institutions according to particular objectives and by using certain tools and instruments. It can also be described as a framework of rules or boundaries established by government within which units, such as higher education institutions can make decisions and determine choices. The more restrictive the rules and the narrower the boundaries, the more steering runs the risk of becoming unmitigated control. Let us examine three possible models of governmental steering of higher education.

3.1 The evaluative state

Guy Neave (1998) coined the term evaluative state to describe government demands for greater quality, institutional efficiency, and enterprise, and refers to it as a real watershed which turns primarily around a more remote, semi hands-off nexus between university and central authority in which functions, previously vested in central authority, are assigned to the individual institution, increasing thereby its operational latitude and even, some claim, its margin of autonomy (Neave 1998:270). Neave (1998) points out that the “verdict that, by its mere presence and existence, state control has been either dysfunctional or counterproductive…remains unproven. What influences one’s perception of State control is the degree of intervention, the intensity of that intervention and whether, as a result of that intervention, one’s collective or personal interests are forwarded or blocked. It is theoretically well within the bounds of possibility to have a higher education system subject to formal State control and yet to have minimal interference or to have a degree of intervention which, if not negligible, is nevertheless perceived by those it affects as part of the natural order of things. In short, it is not State control per se which is the source of disquiet so much as what is perceived as reinforcing State control beyond established bounds” (Neave 1998:270). The manifestations of the evaluative state can lie somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes of state-directed systems and state-supervised systems.

3.2 State-directed systems

In state-directed systems a central state authority takes the major decisions affecting higher education in a country. Through government planning commissions the state not only determines what the shape and size of the higher education system should be, but also sets guidelines for higher education curricula and confirms or vetoes senior academic appointments. Van Vught relates this model to the model of rational planning and control and describes it as an approach in which governmental actors try to steer a planning object by using stringent rules and extensive control-mechanisms.

The strategy of rational planning and control is based upon the assumption of a rationalist perspective on decision-making. It implies that there is complete knowledge about all alternatives, the environment, and all conceivable consequences of all alternatives. Much confidence is put in the capabilities of governmental actors and agencies to acquire comprehensive and true knowledge and to take the best decisions. Obviously this is a normative ideal that is often not realized in practice. This model also implies the centralization of decision-making and a large measure of control over the actual choice to be made and the implementation of the chosen policy. Governmental actors try to steer by using stringent rules and extensive control mechanisms and government sees itself as an omniscient and omnipotent actor able to correctly steer the path of society according to its own objectives.

Some systems of higher education in Europe, having been created by the state and almost completely financed by it, represented examples of the state control model. In these systems the state was the overarching a highly powerful regulator. A clear example is the French higher education system before 1970 that was characterized by a centralized bureaucratic control exercised by the national Ministry of Education. In the French system the Ministry of Education regulates access conditions to higher education institutions, curricula, degree requirements, the examination system, awards degrees and appoints academic staff. At present, many higher education systems in African countries are examples of state-controlled systems, with governments imposing control over the institutions with the declared intention of making them more responsive to the needs of the people.

3.3 State-supervised systems

This model is based on the strategy of self-regulation and its main feature is that a government, through negotiation, establishes a set of rules that guide the self-regulatory behavior of the higher education institutions. The central authority uses either pre-audits (planning and budgets) or post-audits (assessment of outcomes) to shape the higher education system. Most decision-making is decentralized to the institutions themselves, with the central authority focusing on a few critical variables only. Such a system permits higher education institutions considerable autonomy in implementing change and in maintaining the system. In the model of self-regulation government is the actor who watches the rules of a game played by relatively autonomous players and who changes these rules when the game is no longer able to lead to satisfactory results. Government does not intrude by means of detailed regulation and control, but it prefers to respect the autonomy of higher education institutions and to stimulate the self-regulation capabilities of these institutions.

Both the United States higher education system and the traditional British higher education system are examples of the state-supervised model of governance. In these systems the state plays only a minor role and historically they showed far less governmental influence than the European higher education systems. In the traditional British model, for example, there was no formally organized system of national governmental control, and universities and colleges were allowed to decide upon their own admission policies, curricula and staff appointments.

Although the state-supervised model is accompanied by increased institutional autonomy and less direct government interference in higher education, it does not mean that the government releases its hold on higher education. In many countries this model of governance incorporates the development of a system of quality control and evaluation of performance. The increase in institutional autonomy therefore goes hand in hand with more emphasis on accountability.

4. The role of the market

So far attention has been focused mainly on government as an important actor in autonomy and accountability of higher education, and this is a necessary consequence of government being the primary funder of higher education. Of late, however, higher education is increasingly also being funded from various sources: the students themselves or their families through the payment of study fees, alumni and other philanthropists through donations, the business sector, trade and industry through endowments and contracts for research and training, local or regional governments, international agencies, etc. As a consequence the number of actors with some form of power in the system has increased exponentially and the relationships of accountability and autonomy have become more complex. These relationships and the impact that they have on higher education are referred to as the mechanism of market co-ordination.

Some authors argue that the market offers an important mechanism for steering a higher education system. Others take the view that the market cannot be applied to higher education. The latest developments in higher education, particularly in developed countries, attest to the fact that the market as a mechanism for steering higher education cannot be ignored. Becher and Kogan point out that basic units and individuals in higher education have services to sell such as short courses, consultancy and research. Furthermore, even in a public higher education system, reputation is the currency operating in a non-monetary market.

Dill (1997, cited by Mora 2001) points out that marketisation of higher education is based on the belief that allowing market trends to affect the university system will provide an incentive for universities to improve the quality of education and research, to improve academic productivity, to encourage innovation in syllabi and, in general, to improve the services the system offers society.

Clark’s “triangle of co-ordination” combines three groups of actors: government or state authority, the market, and the academic oligarchy, to construct a model of system co-ordination in which the location of each higher education system represents the degree of power of each of the three elements. The higher education system of the United States is regarded as the closest example of a market-driven system. In that system the market forces are multiple and include the government, students as consumers and donors. Contrary to the US system, in the state-controlled French higher education system, the market has very little (if any) power.

Even though it cannot be denied that the market is a powerful actor in the higher education system, it would be wise to remember that there is an inherent conflict between the profit-seeking values of the market and the commitment of higher education to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. How do universities respond to the market without becoming the creatures of a customer-based, market-driven economy? It should also be kept in mind that not all institutions have the same capacity to compete effectively in the marketplace. The market will not treat all institutions similarly or fairly.

Having considered what autonomy and accountability means, and how they relate to the relationships of higher education, the state and the market, we need to turn our attention to the implications of all of this for South African higher education.

5. Higher education in South Africa ten years post-apartheid

When contemplating autonomy and accountability in South African higher education, we cannot do so disengaged from the history of our higher education system, the context in which we are operating and the legal policy framework governing the system.

5.1 History

The higher education system in apartheid South Africa was a highly fragmented and unequal one – to such an extent that it hardly merited being called a ‘system’. The nine historically ‘white’ universities, established before 1950, were governed under their own private Acts, and enjoyed almost unrestricted autonomy, except for the important restriction on admission of so-called non-White students. The Extension of University Education Act of 1959 created a system of not only racially, but ethnically, distinctive universities in South Africa, a process which continued through the 1970s with the establishment of the ‘homeland’ universities of Transkei, Ciskei, Venda and Bophuthatswana, and concluded with the establishment of Vista University for Blacks in so-called ‘white’ urban areas in 1981. Luescher and Symes (2003:5) point out that the pre-1994 universities were different not only in terms of the ethnic groups they served, the medium in which they taught, and their understanding of knowledge production, but also in the manner in which they were governed and their relationship to the state.

As pointed out above, before 1994 the almost unfettered autonomy of the historically white universities was counterbalanced by the tight regulation and control of government over universities for Blacks, Coloureds and Indians, regulated by the Universities Extension Act. From this history of a racially and ethnically divided, inequitable, administratively fragmented and intellectually isolated higher education system with highly uneven measures of autonomy anaccountability, the new democratic government had to forge the ideal of a single coordinated higher education system, serving the twin ideals of equity and excellence in a developing country within a global knowledge economy.

5.2 Context

Many of the drivers for change in higher education worldwide are also impacting on South Africa, including the following:

The exponential growth of information and knowledge leading to increasing specialisation in higher education and research

Increasing rate of development of information and communication technologies

Economic change with concomitant shifts in labour markets, and work and skills requirements

Globalisation leading to more opportunities for international contact and exchange, but also creating pressures in terms of competitiveness

New social ailments such as poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, rapid population growth, HIV/Aids and other pandemics

Growing and almost universal demand for post-school education and training opportunities (the so-called massification of higher education)

Changing attitudes with regard to the role of the public sector and the way in which public services such as higher education should be administered and financed

Restrictions on financial sources provided by the government for higher education, in conjunction with more demands for accountability

The rise of private higher education, in particular the corporate university.

Other challenges that are more specific to South African higher education include new modes of teaching, curriculating and assessing, more extensive and intensive student support because of the poor quality of outputs of the school system and an underdeveloped further education and training system, low graduation rates, growing graduate unemployment, under-representation of black and female staff particularly in senior posts, and an aging, predominantly white male research corps.

To the above challenges can be added the plethora of policies and legislation that impact on universities, such as the South African Qualifications Authority Act, the Labour Relations Act, the Skills Development Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. These Acts all to a lesser or greater extent curtail universities’ autonomy and bring about greater accountability demands.

5.3 Higher education policy and legislation

According to Badat (2003) the first wave of policy proposals for higher education post 1994 was characterized by considerable emphasis on the role of the state in higher education transformation and the relationship between the state and civil society in transformation. This culminated in a general agreement on the values and principles that should guide policy-making and that should serve as criteria for policy formulation and adoption. Amongst these values and principles adopted in policies and legislation were accountability and institutional autonomy, defined as follows in the White Paper (1997): “The principle of institutional autonomy refers to a high degree of self-regulation and administrative independence with respect to student admissions, curriculum, methods of teaching and assessment, research, establishment of academic regulations and the internal management of resources generated from private and public sources. Such autonomy is a condition of effective self-government”. It is important to note, however, the preamble to the Higher Education Act of 1997, that spells out clearly that autonomy must be coupled with accountability: “it is desirable for higher education institutions to enjoy freedom and autonomy in their relationship with the state in the context of public accountability and the national need for advanced skills and scientific knowledge”.

The report of the National Commission on Higher Education in 1996 heralded the second period of policy-making in higher education that was characterized by the consolidation of policy perspectives, the definition of the policy framework and the promulgation of the Higher Education Act and the Education White Paper 3: A programme for the transformation of higher education. This policy and legislative framework defined more sharply the goals of the transformation of higher education, as well as the strategies, structures and instruments for achieving these goals.

The third period that started after 1998 and continues to date, “has been most significantly characterized by the attempt on the part of the Ministry to make decisive choices and take tough decisions” (Luescher & Symes 2003: 7). New concerns with limited financial and human resources necessitated trade-offs between goals. Early in this period the policy debate started shifting from the earlier emphasis on equity, access and increased participation, to more attention to quality assurance, planning, performance indicators, efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, frameworks and plans for the implementation of national policies were put into place. These include the National Plan for Higher Education (2001), the new funding framework (2003), the institutional audit framework (2004) and the programme accreditation framework (2004).

Steering levers and mechanisms in the context of transformation of higher education

The above-mentioned implementation strategies are representative of the three levers or mechanisms through which the government is steering the higher education system towards achieving national policy goals and objectives; namely funding, planning and quality assurance. Fears around actual or potential loss of autonomy, and draconian control and accountability measures often centre around the interpretation of these mechanisms outside the broader framework of the transformation of higher education in South Africa. Other critics of governmental steering comment that there is an overall sense that higher education was forced into a regulatory tunnel vision before the framework of transformation in its complex articulations had been internalised by the system. Regulation is thus experienced as external intervention rather than as the logical outcome of national transition.

Let us remind ourselves of the framework for transformation for higher education in South Africa, articulated as the five strategic objectives of the National Plan and consider how they are being advanced by the different levers or steering mechanisms:

Strategic objective 1: Producing the graduates needed for social and economic development in South Africa

The emphasis of the new funding framework on teaching outputs, graduation and success rates and the new taxonomy of funding categories weighted towards science, engineering and technology aim at efficiently producing graduates with relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes for the new South Africa. The new framework is described as a goal-oriented and performance-related distributive mechanism that explicitly links the allocation of funds to academic activity and output, and in particular to the delivery of teaching-related and research-related services which contribute to the social and economic development of the country.

In addition, the Programme and Qualification Mixes of institutions and enrolment planning have a similar intention, whereas the criterion of relevance in the programme accreditation framework of the HEQC supports this.

Strategic objective 2: Achieving equity of access and fair chances of success, while eradicating unfair discrimination and advancing redress for past inequalities

For the first time earmarked funds for academic development purposes have been made available in the new funding framework. These foundation programme grants are to be utilized by institutions to support students from a disadvantaged environment to achieve academic success. In addition, an institutional factor in the funding framework benefits institutions with higher proportions of black students.

Strategic objective 3: Ensuring diversity in the organizational form and institutional landscape of the higher education system through mission and programme differentiation

The programme accreditation process, i.e. registration at the Department of Education, accreditation by the Higher Education Quality Committee and recording by the South African Qualifications Authority endeavours not only to maintain and enhance quality of academic programmes, but also to ensure an appropriate mix of programmes offered at various levels to provide in the needs of the economy. This is supported by the Programme and Qualification Mix.

Strategic objective 4: Sustaining and promoting research and other knowledge outputs required to meet national development needs, and which will enable the country to become competitive in a new global context

The new funding framework provides substantial incentives for research outputs and post-graduate student outputs. Conditions in the Programme and Qualification Mixes ensure that institutions have the necessary human and physical resources to offer post-graduate education and supervision.

Strategic objective 5: Restructuring the institutional landscape of higher education by building new institutional forms, identities and cultures as integral components of a single co-ordinated national higher education system.

The mergers and incorporations of higher education institutions will lead to a new reconfigured higher education landscape in which the government hopes to achieve economies of scale by creating fewer, larger institutions. Effectively this also eradicates the old distinctions of historically disadvantaged and advantaged institutions.

Clearly then the steering mechanisms and levers employed by government should be judged within the broader ambit of transformation of not only higher education, but of the broader South African society. The new Minister of Education has unequivocally stated that ‘higher education has a central role to play in achieving our national development goals’, and she added: “Universities are too valuable to be constantly battered by the demands of disruptive policy, but transformation also demands engaged, responsive institutions. It would be peculiar, indeed, for our universities to be unaffected by the changing and changed priorities of our country”.

So where and how do we find the balance? It seems as if we should acknowledge the inevitable tension of conflict between the values of accountability and autonomy, and find ways of dealing with this.

Finding and maintaining the correct balance

The fact that conflict between values in higher education exists cannot be denied. Kogan (1992:47) points out that “at any one time there will also be tension and accommodation between social norms as voiced, or at least interpreted most directly, by central government, and academic values, as represented by self-determining institutions, basic units, and individuals.” In every society there are cycles of dominance: some values dominate at a particular point in time while others become unobtrusive, just to assume a dominant position in the next era when those values which formerly were important recede into the background.

Whether the tension between values can in fact be resolved, is debatable, because the conflicts are not between rational and irrational, but between what Tasker and Packham (1993:128) call “the rationalities of different traditions.” There are indeed ultimate values and the conflicts between them cannot be resolved by recourse to higher reason, because the values at stake are “incommensurables” (Gray, cited by Tasker & Packham 1993:128). It is therefore essential that the values themselves and the conflicts between them should be exposed and encountered in the light of a profound understanding of the essence of higher education itself.

What should be vigorously strived for is the correct balance of values for the higher education system concerned. Berdahl (1990: 174) points out that “what may be a correct balance for one system may not be appropriate for another system, and indeed, what may e correct for one system at one time may not be correct for that same system at another stage in its development.” As pointed out earlier, higher education systems go through cycles of dominance of values, and while this process is undoubtedly influenced by societal factors, the system itself fortunately does most of the word of reconciliation and compromise (Clark 1983:251).

Luc Weber (2000) proposes that one way of keeping the balance, is seeing the mission of the university as twofold: to be both responsive and responsible. Responsiveness addresses the immediate strategies for meeting the short-term economic and social requirements of the community. Responsibility involves the long-term view of the university’s mission and society’s needs. To be truly responsible includes being an enduring and credible vehicle for social criticism and to provide principled intellectual leadership, even in the face of official opposition.

Requirements from government for the balancing act

What do universities require from government in order to be both responsible and responsive? We require government to guide change through:

A coherent policy framework: Pro-active, meaningful reforms should be rooted in a clear long-term vision for higher education. This vision should include at least three dimensions: firstly, outlining how higher education can most effectively contribute towards national growth in the context of a developing country in a globally articulated knowledge-based economy; secondly, agreeing on the roles of different types of higher education institutions in the system, and thirdly, determining the conditions under which higher education can become more effective and efficient. It also implies policies and mechanisms that do not exist in disjuncture, but that articulate and support one another. One example in this regard is the lack of alignment between the programme accreditation framework and the Higher Education Qualifications Framework.

An enabling regulatory environment: The second responsibility of government is to create a regulatory environment that encourages rather than stifles innovation in higher education and initiatives by higher education institutions to engage in high quality, relevant teaching and research. Enabling regulation focuses on outcomes, leaving institutions to control inputs and processes. It should also be acknowledged that any regulatory framework has its limitations. Accountability efforts should be guided by the premise that some important elements of higher education practice cannot be measured reliably.

Appropriate financial incentives: Financial mechanisms and incentives to steer institutions towards quality, efficiency and equity goals include allocating formula linking resources to institutional performance, encouragement of resource mobilization by institutions, competitive funds for investments in quality improvement, and student financial aid. In addition, budgeting should not be so performance driven as to cause fiscal instability from one year to the next. And importantly, higher priority should be ascribed to academic quality than to cost containment and efficiency (Salmi 2004).

How do we safeguard our autonomy while being accountable?

I believe one important way of taking the current debate on autonomy and accountability forward is for higher education to clearly articulate our key values and reaffirmed them as steadfast priorities; however, they must be framed in ways that are compatible with pressing national needs. Universities need to do a better job of continuously educating politicians, government official and the public about their value. We have a huge challenge to document our successes and to develop the capacity and the terminology to communicate these achievements effectively. We are undervalued not simply because of the challenge of measuring our successes, but also because we do a poor job at communicating those achievements.

In addition, institutional leaders must make difficult choices that balance seemingly overwhelming policy marketplace pressures and marketplace opportunities with institutions’ social purposes. Thus, leaders may have to sacrifice some short-term gains for long-term goals. And vice-chancellors and other leaders must understand not only what influences their own position but also the elements that shape the positions of policy makers. In this way we can address the challenges of autonomy and accountability in more balanced and nuanced manner.

I thank you.


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