In 2011 the Centre for Higher Education Transformation in South Africa, as part of the HERANA (Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa) project, published Universities and Economic Development in Africa by Nico Cloete et al. In this publication, five specific information instruments were developed and applied in a study involving a selected university in each of eight African countries as part of exploring the relationship between knowledge-based institutions such as universities and economic development.
The instruments vary considerably from one another in their levels of application, ranging from the international to the institutional levels, and in their application purposes, ranging from strategy and planning to evaluation and monitoring of implementation of policy.
In addition the information instruments represent unique and extremely useful tools for a variety of users ranging from international development agencies to national governments and their associated agencies, higher education advisory and interest bodies and higher education institutions themselves.
The five information instruments developed in Universities and Economic Development in Africa, which will each be discussed briefly next, are:
For each of these instruments a short description will be given of what the instrument is made up of, its theoretical underpinnings, likely users and what the main uses would be.
A framework of conditions
This instrument consists of a framework setting out the minimum conditions required for harnessing higher education successfully for economic development.
The conditions are: equitable and quality schooling; acceptable higher education participation rates; a sufficiently high degree of differentiation in higher education systems; links between higher education and economic planning supported and fostered by government; effective partnerships and networks among governments, higher education institutions and private sector structures and organisations; adequate and equitable funding of higher education which is steered to some degree at least in terms of national goals and priorities; and adequate incentives and support mechanisms for research and innovation.
This framework was developed from a three-country case study forming part of the HERANA project - Finland, South Korea and the North Carolina in the United States. The outcomes of this study are presented in more detail in Universities and Economic Development in Africa.
Depending on functional levels, a broad range of users would use the framework in obtaining an assessment of a country's readiness for harnessing higher education for economic development. These users could range from international agencies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Union etc., to donor organisations functioning at an international level, to national governments and their associated departments, to economic planning agencies, to higher education interest bodies such as the African Association of Universities or Higher Education South Africa.
The framework of conditions lends itself to being used both qualitatively and quantitatively and good examples of its use for the eight African countries included in the HERANA project are given. It represents a powerful instrument in improving strategy and planning, in policy development, and in comparative country evaluations in respect of the likelihood of the successful harnessing of higher education for development.
A broad classification instrument
The next information instrument consists of a broad 2x2 classification system in respect of four notions of the role of knowledge and universities in advancing development. The four notions are: the university as ancillary to development; the university as a self-governing institution; the university as an instrument for development; and the university as an engine of development.
The classification instrument was derived from work published by Peter Maassen and Nico Cloete (2006) and Peter Maassen and Johan P Olson (2007).
This instrument is likely to prove of particular value to national planning structures and government departments responsible for economic development and for higher education, as well as for higher education interest bodies and for universities themselves.
The application of this instrument is qualitative in nature and it would mainly be used on a system level to assess the nature of any knowledge - university interaction and the levels of differentiation in a higher education system.
For universities this instrument provides a useful identity self-check in terms of correspondence with intended strategies and could also be used in assessing internal fund applications from institutional strategic funds.
A set of indicators of core academic activities
From national management information systems such as the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) in South Africa and from institutional data, a range of higher education institutional input and output variables are tracked over a seven-year period in order to provide an instrument for assessing the strength of the academic core of universities.
In this respect this instrument is much more than a snapshot of an institution but represents a medium-term trend analysis of the strength of an institution's academic core.
The instrument, which lends itself largely to a quantitative application, is likely to be used mainly by universities themselves for purposes of peer comparison, for institutional self-assessment and for shaping institutional strategy and policy towards achieving desired academic outputs levels.
An instrument for assessing coordination and implementation
This information instrument seeks to assess the levels of coordination and implementation of knowledge policies at a national level. It is derived from the three-country case study mentioned earlier as well as work published by Dietmar Braun (2008).
The instrument consists of three measures in respect of the levels of coordination of knowledge policies and 10 measures in respect of levels of implementation of knowledge policies - four measures applying to the national level and six to institutional levels.
In essence this instrument assesses the strength of 'pacts' among governments, universities and the private sector on the role of higher education in development. It can also be used to assess the levels of coordination across government departments involved in knowledge-related policies. Similarly this instrument is useful at an institutional level in assessing coordination of knowledge-related policies and their implementation within institutions.
Its application is qualitative and at the national level requires a considerable amount of system knowledge and insight and, in the case of universities, a satisfactory amount of institutional insight and knowledge. This means that at the institutional level its application and interpretation are likely to be the responsibility of executive management assisted by a unit of institutional research and planning.
A way of evaluating linkages of development projects to core academic activities
The final information instrument assesses the measure of connectedness of institutional development activities to the academic core. In this regard the term 'connectedness' refers to the inward focus on strengthening and maintaining the academic core, and the outward focus on linking with external stakeholders and development. These two focuses usually result in some institutional tension and the instrument represents a useful way of analysing this tension.
This instrument is largely based on work by W Richard Scott (2001) and some theoretical developments presented in the publication Universities and Economic Development in Africa and is based on 10 measures altogether - five each on one of two dimensions.
One of the dimensions is the extent to which development projects in the university strengthen the academic core and the other is defined as 'articulation', meaning the level of articulation between development outcomes in the institution and national and institutional objectives, the linkages between such projects and government and other external stakeholders, and institutional linkages generated through sources of funding.
As can be expected, the main users of this instrument will be higher education institutions themselves. They will use it to assess the relatedness of their development activities to their core academic functions and as such will use the instrument to refine institutional policies in respect of development and for decisions on the funding of development projects.
In summary: the original intentions of the HERANA project resulting in the publication Universities and Economic Development in Africa were probably not directly aimed at producing five extremely useful information instruments in respect of the relationship between universities and development, which could be applied by users on various levels and for a variety of purposes.
However, in the end this unique set of information instruments, which on the whole are fairly simple in their construct and application, form an indispensable part of assessing and evaluating the role of higher education systems and higher education institutions in the knowledge-development interface.
As such this set of information instruments constitutes an extraordinarily useful mechanism for emerging market countries that in particular would be grappling with the role which higher education plays in their broader development agendas.
* Dr Rolf Stumpf is former vice-chancellor and rector of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa and currently a member of the Council on Higher Education and chair of its Higher Education Quality Committee.
Braun D (2008) Organising the Political Coordination of Knowledge and Innovation Policies. Science and Public Policy 35(4): 227-239
Cloete N, Bailey T, Pillay P, Bunting I & Maassen P (2011) Universities and Economic Development in Africa. Cape Town: Centre for Higher Education Transformation
Maassen P & Cloete N (2006) Global Reform Trends in Higher Education. In N Cloete, R Fehnel, P Maassen, T Moja, H Perold & T Gibbon (eds) Transformation in Higher Education: Global pressures and local realities (2nd ed). Dordrecht: Springer
Maassen P & Olsen J (2007) University Dynamics and European Integration. Higher education dynamics. Dordrecht: Springer
Scott WR (2001) Organisations: Rational, natural and open systems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
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