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ENSURING RELEVANCE AS A UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATOR IN A CHANGING CLIME
Being the text of a Lecture delivered at the 2nd Annual Lecture of the Registry, Redeemer’s University, Ede. Osun State
Wednesday, 8th April, 2015
Chief Mojisola Ladipo, FNIM, mni
To change is the law of life. And those who look to the past or present are certain to miss the future
- John F. Kennedy
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance
- Alan Watts
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, change is the only constant phenomenon in life.
The University of the 21st century has been described as a ‘super complexity’, (Barnett, 2006) where ‘there is no end to ‘dis-sensus’ (as opposed to consensus) and where there are ‘inevitable conflicts’ between individuals, the different stakeholders, and even within the university’s own agenda. In his article on ‘The 21st century University: Leading the Super Complex University’, Barnett asserted that in this brave new world, there are multiple currents driving the university, some intermingling, some remaining separate, everything is contestable and unpredictable and there is ever present, a challenge to hold on to principles and not go the way of the crowd. It is a world that is redefining what it means to be a professor and what exactly a university is. Emphasis is shifting from ‘buildings’ to ‘nerve centers’ because the nature of studentship and the concept of learning are changing. It is the era of Generation Y who expects to access classes via webinars presentations and online video conferencing. Teachers are no longer just dispensing information but assisting students to turn information to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom, at least in more civilized climes. It is a world of ‘now’ in which whatever information you need is at your fingertips with the speed of light. Information is no longer power, knowledge is. The stakeholders all have choices. Competition is keen and cut throat at times. The public’s expectations are multifarious, high, relentless and unforgiving. He concluded that managing a 21st Century University is about handling multiple and conflicting agendas that have no resolution. Management and therefore, administration has become more complex and more fluid. In a nutshell, universities are no longer what we knew them to be, with compartmentalized administration and management and mindless bureaucracy.
In this lecture, we shall define the University Administrator in its broadest terms and in particular, the Registry and its functional role in the institution. We shall consider some global and local issues that are changing the face of Universities and the way we administer them, especially in Nigeria. We shall, thereafter reflect briefly on the peculiarities of private universities and the challenge of change. We shall briefly examine the impact of this relentless change on career University Administrators, noting in particular, the issues of professionalism as well as career advancement within the Registry. We shall conclude by proffering some suggestions on ensuring the relevance of the career administrator in the 21st century University.
In terms of administration, Sanyal, (1994) described universities as ‘professional bureaucracies, having an academic decentralised department or faculty structure’ in what had been described as a ‘loosely coupled system’. The administration is decentralised to smaller academic units such as colleges, schools, faculties and departments or units with varying degrees of autonomy. Administration in universities across the globe is structured in various ways at different institutions and in different countries depending on age, history, ownership and even culture. The post of Registrar may be a high profile one in Nigerian universities but may not necessarily be so in American universities where they are little more than university record keepers. Even the colonial structure inherited from the University of London has dramatically changed in the United Kingdom. Never-the-less, universities remain essentially collegiate in nature, relying on the committee system and consensus in decision making.
Historically, the structure and the mien of administration and management of universities have evolved to meet the needs of the times and the challenges of emerging complexities. The elaborate bureaucracies that have become the hallmark of governance and administration today are of a more recent development in the history of universities. In the beginning, it was just the teacher and his (no female teacher?) students. Plato, (427-347 BC) his mentor, Socrates, (469 -399BC) and his student, Aristotle, (384-322BC) all sat in their academies while students sought them out. I can only conjecture, in the absence of empirical data to back up my claims, that administration and management of universities became more complex in the last two or three centuries as a result of expansionism, following increased accessibility of higher education to the masses in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It is therefore natural that the management and administration of universities will continue to change to meet the challenges of the times. The relevance and importance of each unit of administration will also ebb and flow in response to these challenges.
The University Administrator
The administrative unit of a university can be broadly defined as the separate administrative structure consisting of that branch of the university’s employees responsible for the maintenance and supervision of the institution and separate from the faculty or academics. In the Nigerian parlance, they are usually referred to as the ‘service departments’. However, academic heads of departments are also administrators in a manner of speaking because the day-to-day direction and welfare of their particular units have been devolved to them, either by statute or regulation. Hence, deans and heads of departments are administrators and are bound by administrative rules, regulations and procedures. As universities become more complex, specialization becomes imperative in response to global changes. Needless to say, more and more units are being run by specialists or professionals in addition to the academia who may take on administrative responsibilities for specified periods alongside their teaching and research activities.
Key administrative responsibilities (and thus administrative units) in academic institutions include:
• Personnel affairs such as hiring, promotion, tenure, and evaluation (with faculty input where appropriate)
• Maintenance of official records – the Registry
• Maintenance and audit of financial flows and records ( usually in finance offices and bursaries)
• Library and archive management (by Librarians and Archivists);
• Maintenance and construction of campus buildings (the Physical Planning or Directorate of Works);
• Maintenance of the campus grounds; ( Parks and Gardens)
• Safety and security of people and property on the campus
• Supervision and support of campus computers and network (Information Technology).
• Fundraising from private individuals and foundations ("Development" or "Advancement" Directorates)
• Research Administration (including grants and contract administration, and institutional compliance with federal and state regulations)
• Public Affairs (including relations with the media, the community, and local, state, and federal governments)
Our conclusion here is that administration is not just about the Registry. It encompasses every other service that facilitates academic pursuits. University administration, whether vertically or horizontally includes these different units and their inter-relationships. However, as professionalism and academic administrators take on the functions that used to be reserved for career administrators who, as generalists, were relevant and vital to university mission in a less complex era, it is to be expected that the visibility and centrality of career administrators will regress.
The Career Administrator and the Registry
The career Administrator is simply that person who is in line of succession to the Registrar as a career option and therefore belongs to the department called the Registry, regardless of where he or she is ‘posted’ within the University and its constituents. The Registry is headed by the Registrar who is the Chief Administrative Officer of the University. A typical law establishing a Nigerian university usually spells out the responsibility of the Registrar thus:
There shall be a Registrar who shall be Chief Administrative Officer of the University and shall be responsible to the Vice Chancellor for day-to-day administrative work of the university except as regards matters which the Bursar is responsible.
The person holding the office of Registrar shall by virtue of that office be secretary to the Council, the Senate, the Congregation, and the Convocation.
The Registrar, as the Chief Administrative Officer of the University provides services to enable the university to perform its tripartite function of teaching, research and community service by guiding and facilitating the work of the many committees set up for the proper running of the institution. He or she ensures the correct and proper interpretation and application of the laws, rules, and regulations of the university and the implementation of policy decisions of the governance bodies. The duties or functions of all career Administrators are embedded in the duties assigned to the Registrar. The Registry therefore represents the necessary bureaucracy for the coordination of activities in the university. It should be noted, however, that the Registry extends to all the clerical, secretarial and administrative assistants who keep and administer the records, traditions, culture, and documents that actualize the academic values of the University.
In Universities in Nigeria, the Registry is that department where the University records, Seal and articles of authority and other documents pertaining to the governance, administration and management are kept and administered. The success or otherwise of the collegiality of the university is embedded in the duty of the administrator as secretary to all committees of Council, Senate, Congregation and Convocation. Hence, the Registrar, and by extension, his or her officers, is the official in charge of the life and times of the University. The Administrator in the institution keeps the system running by operating its bureaucratic and collegiate structure along predetermined rules and regulations which may change from time to time. It is part of the Administrator’s job to facilitate these changes and manage them.
The effectiveness of the Registry is measured in terms of the achievement of the institutional goals and the extent to which these are met legally and legitimately to the satisfaction of the various constituencies. It stands to reason, therefore that the contributions of career Administrators are pivotal to the achievement of university goals.
Change factors in Managing Universities of the 21st Century.
A lot of factors and events have made impact on universities world- wide in terms of their strategic and operational management. Some of these factors include:
The pace of global competition for staff, students and donors
Technological changes, including the ICT revolution
Diversification of ownership or deregulation of higher education in Nigeria
Career advancement in the Registry
The seven important factors listed above, among others, are intertwined and have led to changes in the way Universities are managed worldwide, including Nigeria. The University of the 21st Century has moved from the largely bureaucratic model and the consensus, strictly collegial model to one that is increasingly entrepreneurial and corporate, while at the same time, more inclusive, with a lot of power residing in the Office of the Vice- Chancellor who has assumed the role of a chief executive. This is in response to the challenges of the times which require precision, timeliness and cost effectiveness and therefore put a lot of pressure on the creativity of the managers. In this changing clime, the Vice- Chancellor can hardly be expected to have patience with a bureaucracy that does not deliver on their core duties, let alone proactively suggest policies and ideas that are novel and add value to University mission.
Private Universities and the Challenge of Change
Arising from the promulgation of Decree No 9 of 1993, the gates were open for the diversification of ownership of universities in Nigeria and the deregulation of higher education. As a result of this, private initiatives emerged on our educational landscape. It is instructive that in 2005, the Federal Government approved the opening of 16 private universities, including Redeemer’s in one fell swoop, becoming what we may refer to as the second generation private universities. Between 1999 and 2003, there were only 6 such universities. The impact of this is the demystification of higher education, resulting in expanded access for the teeming population of young people seeking admission without any financial obligation on the part of government. The new players bring to the table, novel ideas of management and administration that may or may not totally conform to collegiality as we know it, being driven mostly by their own mission and goals with little or no political considerations and a keen eye on the bottom line. As at January 2015, the NUC website indicated that out of the 138 universities in Nigeria, 59 are privately owned, mostly by faith based denominations. The Federal government owns 40 while the state governments established the remaining 39. Quantitatively, private concerns own more than either state or federal governments and, according to recent speculations, more are in the offing.
All the 138 universities are competing for staff, funds, students and public opinion. These resources are limited qualitatively and quantitatively. The ‘big brothers’, i.e. the first, second and third generation universities, who had a good head start and generally are government funded are not resting on their oars. They keep striving to maintain their reputation and pride of place, seeking new partners, upping their game, and exploiting their pedigree in the pursuit of excellence. How can a young private university compete fairly? This is one of the challenges being borne by private universities. Funding is a major issue as universities are notoriously expensive to run and the number of citizens that can afford to pay their charges is relatively small and probably diminishing as the economic climate gets worse. Thus, private universities are not only competing with each other for students’ fees but also with foreign universities which appeal to the young and old who dream of greener pastures. The challenge of online universities is very real since they are able to deliver, as it were, knowledge to your door step, and at your convenience, and appeal to the same market consisting mostly of middle class professionals and the life- long learning generation.
All universities are competing for qualified staff, but the private universities, being relatively new comers on the scene have a special problem. Many of them can hardly match the emoluments, perquisites of office and conditions of service of the public sector which the older and more established universities have taken for granted. Generally, these older universities already have a large pool of experienced staff whether academic, professional or administrative and an even larger pool of graduates that guarantees their renewal. The same can be said for competing for donors since people generally give to people and to success stories. Ask a budding entrepreneur how easy it is to be taken seriously by banks and investors. All these tie together in the university’s quest for reputation and carving a unique niche for itself locally and globally. Great staff produces great students who in turn become great alumni and potential laureates and donors.
To whom much is given, much is expected. Private universities came into being partly because the public believes that they would provide the much needed antidote to the rut in our educational systems which probably reach its peak in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This era was largely about decayed infrastructure, strikes and cultism on campus, fake admissions and fake graduates, unemployable and unemployed graduates. The public nostalgically recalled the era of mission schools that supposedly instilled discipline and morals in students and staff alike and private schools that gave value for money. Private universities were therefore expected to do the same and bring back the good old days. Not many gave a thought about the financial implications, including the proprietors who often, only calculated the amount fees would bring into the coffers!
Living up to these high expectations can be a drain on the energy and resources of the average institution, not to talk of the ingenuity of its managers and administrators.
The owners of private universities are not all engaging in this business from a purely altruistic motive. They are not –for-profit but hoping to be profitable organisations! In this regard, their management and administrative styles cannot but be more target-oriented.
The Challenge of Technology and ICT
This lecture is titled, “Ensuring Relevance as a University Administrator in a Changing Clime.” The essence of our discussion so far is to sensitize my audience to those factors that constitute the changing clime because they dictate the fortunes of every member of the academic community. They have far reaching effects on who constitutes the administration and what the expectations of the community are. The constant and unrelenting changes dictate who or what is vital and relevant to institutional mission and who or what can be downsized or redefined out of existence. Perhaps the greatest change factor in our life time had been the advances in technology and the development of ICT. For example, half the population of our administrators now has never heard of a franking machine because the postal agencies are no longer as crucial to communication as they once were. Technology has changed the way we do things ranging from communication and information dispersal to our day to day functions as people and as workers. In our faculties or colleges, in our human resource functions, in managing the committee system, recruiting and administering students and communicating with our external publics, we are dealing with a generation of people who prefer to communicate through e-mail and text messages rather than actual face-to-face contact. Because the generation labeled Generation Y and even to a large extent, the Generation X before them have always had constant access to modern technology, such as computers, laptops and cell phones, in their youth, their education or learning, employment and social life is constantly defined by or required to incorporate updated forms of such types of electronics. Next to the emergence of professionalism, technology had seriously eroded the functions of generalists and, surprisingly, impeded their relevance. Yet, properly embraced and harnessed, technology should positively enable administrators to carry out their functions in a timely, cost effective and efficient manner.
The impact of Professionalism
The term profession refers to an occupation, vocation or high-status career, usually involving prolonged academic training, specialized knowledge, formal qualifications and membership of a professional licensing or regulatory body which enforce adherence to a code of ethics or an oath of practice. We have doctors, lawyers, technologists, engineers, and more recently, ICT practitioners, among others.
Professionalism began to erode the powers and influence of career administrators more than five decades ago when the Assistant Registrar (Finance) in the University College, Ibadan became the Bursar with a full fledged statutory department called the Bursary. With time, other professionals emerged and the rest is history. The bad news is that this trend will continue as the world economic, social, environmental and political climate changes, leaving the Registry, and by extension, career administrators who are in line of succession to the Registrar with little, other than servicing committees!
Career Advancement in the Registry
A very important development in the career of non- teaching staff in the Nigerian university system is the issue of tenure. On the positive side is that it enables more administrators to reach the apex of their career. It also, perhaps brings or should breathe new life and fresh ideas into the office of the Registrar every six years or so. On the downside is the death of loyalty and esprit de corps among the administrators in addition to the terrible attrition due to the rate of turn- over among the experienced administrators. More recently, ex registrars are returning to their institutions rather than retiring or going elsewhere with the attendant demystification of the office and the effect on discipline. In my humble opinion, a number of very senior administrators are no longer investing all their efforts in building a legacy of excellence and attention to the detail of their schedules, neither are they committed to developing the next generation of administrators Rather, they are keeping an eye on when their turn comes to take a shot at the office of registrar and actively creating obstacles to the efficiency and effectiveness of the incumbent through passive resistance to best practices. The overall effect is that the Registry is perceived by the majority of the stakeholders as inefficient, ineffective and out of sync with the mission of their universities. The attitude of our administrators, their lack of knowledge of the basic tools of their university functions, their dearth of appropriate skills such as communication, interpersonal, computing skills, and their lack of a sense of self worth has become all too evident and pervasive in an era that calls for critical thinking and advanced communication skills. Of course,
Heavens forbid, but if this decline is not stemmed, a time will come when all that would be left to the registry would be the keeping of records! Even the servicing of committees may be out sourced to other players that are better equipped in the university. So what does the future portend?
A Business that fails to reinvent itself will die no matter how benevolent its shareholders are. Therefore, the only way to the survival of the registry in future is to reinvent itself in terms of skills, knowledge and attitude. If we as career Administrators take the trouble to scan our environment, we will observe that Registrars, and by inference, the Registries continue to exist only because the enabling Laws of Universities still make provision for the position. As Universities become more corporate in nature and management, with a keen eye on efficiency and the bottom line, it will become obvious that the positions of Principal Officers other than the purely academic need a revisit. University Secretary, like Company Secretary may replace Registrars. Director of Finance and Investments may replace Bursars and even Librarians will be manned by Professors of Library Studies or Deputy Vice – Chancellor (Academic Resource Centre) and as a responsibility position in addition to teaching and research assignments. Other arms of what we know as the Registry will be fully manned by professionals; Human Resource, Students Recruitment and Retention Specialists, Communication and Brand Promotion Centers to name a few.
In summing up, I believe that the main challenge to the Registry, and by extension, the career administrator today is not just relevance but survival? This must have informed the choice of the title of this lecture.
Stemming the Tide of Irrelevance and Extinction
At the beginning of this lecture, we referred to a quotation by Alan Watts which says, ‘the only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.’ In other words, the Registry must not let change happen to it; it must, as a department, proactively invite, influence and welcome change. In order to survive and be relevant, the first step is to accept the reality of change.
The Registry must diversify its base by promoting new cadres of administrators who are not necessarily in line of succession to the Registrar but can use their talents in other ways that bring them prospects and fulfillment. For example, I am informed that one Nigerian University has created the position of Research Administrators who assist in the Grant Offices.
Career Administrators in our Universities need to be at the fore front of the re-invention of their department by embracing professionalisation and specialization through certification, just like accountants, journalists or nurses. Units of the Registry, such as the Human Resource Directorate, must become specialists units, staffed by professional HR practitioners to lift the Registry out of the perception that being a generalist department, anybody of whatever level of intelligence can be an administrator!
To be relevant to university mission, the career administrator must:
• Be committed personally to the installation of and sustenance of quality in service delivery and the need to add value to the system.
• Provide administrative efficiency and effectiveness through continuous self development
• Embrace technology for effective, timely and cost effective delivery of services.
• Jealously guard, guide and protect academic and management policies against individual whims and caprices
• Commit to building bridges between and across the workforce in the University community.
• Assist in building a climate of mutual respect by providing timely and clearly defined information concerning limits of authority, responsibility and control and providing reminders from time to time.
• Be familiar and conversant at all times with Management prerogatives as opposed to governance issues and strike a proper balance between the two
• Build a sympathetic relationship between and among the workforce, especially the leaderships through proper orientation of members in the culture, values and vision of the University.
• Encourage a participatory approach, as secretary to the Committees, in the development of policy guidelines on issues affecting the Institution and the decision –making process, thus minimising executive arbitrariness by being knowledgeable and skilful.
It appears to me therefore that the only way to be relevant and therefore, indispensable as career administrators is to be efficient, effective and committed to their statutory duties, seeking new knowledge in their areas of operation and pro-actively adding value to the mission of their institution.
It has been a learning experience interacting with you as colleagues. I believe I have raised issues that will impact on your consciousness and challenge you to become the Administrator ‘with the mostest’
We can conclude that our universities are changing and our Registries with them. It has become imperative for the Registry of universities to move from “merely administering the status quo to managing the ‘complex structures and systems “that the institutions have become in order not only to be relevant but as a matter of survival. They should be in the forefront of institutional advancement, utilization of technology to deliver fast and friendly service to staff, student and the public alike, engaging their public with high work ethics and positive attitude, and individually and collectively, keeping abreast of best practice in administration It all begins with a sound knowledge of their university rules, regulations, tradition and institutional culture and bring this to bear on their day to day duties in a way that makes them the department to check with for information and guidance. Administrators should not just be there to give opinions but should be capable of critical thinking and sound reasoning that can effect positive change in the governance, management and administration of the university.
They may not be liked or praised or applauded but they will definitely be respected and held in high regard. That, definitely, is the path to sustainable relevance.
I thank you all.