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UM needs clear performance goals
The relationship between the government and University of Macau (UM) under the institution’s new charter should include “clear performance goals” and long-term funding plans, experts said yesterday.
UM invited specialists from all over the world for a two-day forum to discuss among other issues, the balance between autonomy, control and accountability of higher education institutions.
“Most people in universities want a certain deal: give us the money and let us spend it as we wish,” said Harvey Weingarten, the president of the Higher Education Quality Council Ontario, Canada. “Universities tend to be very self-absorbed,” he bemoaned.
“Governments must supervise whether the spending is going towards the goal, but not to say how to get to the goal,” he added. “Authorities must be clear about what they want and how to measure it.”
And that could be a big challenge, said Elsa Hackl, professor of University of Vienna. In 2002 Austria introduced a new three-year funding contract for universities, which includes a performance agreement and a formula taking into account student numbers, graduation rate and research figures.
But the performance agreements “became formalistic and rather bureaucratic instruments,” Hackl said. “It’s difficult to state what a university can do in three years. What happened was we started having more and more performance indicators,” she said.
One of the main issues is whether or not a university should “be run as a business or a business-like organisation,” said the dean of the College of Commerce at Chengchi University, Taiwan.
But, he added, with international competition for students and staff, a university’s governance structure “must be flexible enough to allow it to change in response to demands of a rapidly changing world”.
On Tuesday, UM vice-rector Rui Martins admitted that one of the possibilities for the university’s new legal framework would be the creation of a foundation.
University of Minho, Portugal, has already done it. “It allows us to operate outside of the state bureaucracy and gives us increased financial autonomy for multi-annual planning,” said rector António Cunha.
But he admitted that public funding now accounted for less than half of the university’s budget. Also in Austria “the new funding scheme could not prevent budget constrains,” Hackl added.
“The future of our countries depends heavily on the quality of our universities,” said Weingarten. “This is a very serious issue that requires dialogue and students have to be part of the dialogue,” he added.
At the closing speech UM vice-rector Simon Ho acknowledged it was “crucial to build a clear relationship between the main stakeholders” of higher education, to “effectively divide power and responsibility”.
But he stressed that the institution would retain “maximum autonomy and academic freedom”. On the other hand, “it’s very important to install an effective accountability mechanism,” Ho said.
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