Post two: managerial autonomy – a “high-trust” agenda

AutonomyIn our previous post we reflected on the proposed initiatives in the Strategic Agenda. We mentioned shortly that institutions can decide themselves on the various initiatives proposed and the priorities they choose. In this post, we would like to further discuss this managerial autonomy of the higher education institutions.

We note that the Strategic Agenda answers the long called wish to increase the confidence in higher education institutions and the professionals who work there. The Strategic Agenda appears to be a high-trust agenda: in section 1.4 it is clear that the government will provide the higher education institutions more managerial autonomy, albeit with a somewhat stronger role for students and education committees (Strategic Agenda, p. 18). This autonomy will be created by limiting the pressure of accountability. Moreover, the bulk of the funding that will be granted to the institutions via a lump sum, which can be used at the higher education institution’s own discretion and prioritisation (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 85).

The Strategic Agenda identifies many challenges and provides a whole range of possible solutions and tools with which to tackle them, but leaves it to the institutions to choose from them. The question this raises is whether the minister has the tools to properly monitor if the additional funds lead to the desired quality improvements in education. How will the minister identify which institution does what and how will she steer, control and monitor the higher education institutions? In addition, it is important to ask what the impact of these many (small) initiatives will be.

This ‘high-trust’ agenda of the minister clearly places the initiative at the feet of the institutions (see also the article in Science Guide and the references to the other approach in other sectors identified as ‘go with the flow’ (Strategic Agenda, p.65)). It remains to be seen if the level of development of internal checks and balances (the role of students, teachers and external stakeholders) are adequate to maintain this course of action (Strategic Agenda, p. 19). The question that needs to be addressed is what consequences this will incur on the instrument itself in terms of the performance or quality agreements. A robust evaluation of this instrument would be useful within this context.

Come back on Tuesday to read our third blog post on the Strategic Agenda, in which we will discuss the expected scale and investment plan of the Strategic Agenda.

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