Governance Reforms in the Post-Revolutionary Higher Education Context in Armenia

by Anna Gevorgyan

The new government that came into power following the 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia has pronounced the comprehensive revision of the legislative and regulatory arrangements as one of its priorities in the higher education sector in Armenia. The transitional changes taking place in higher education, and beyond, in Armenia underscore the importance and the timing for rethinking and reshaping the relationship among the state, the universities, the non-state actors, including the civil society and international community. The changes that the higher education sector needs in Armenia today are not just about liberating the academia from the state control; rather, they about setting a new agreement between the state and the universities. This article aims to set out three key principles necessary for the reform and strategy of governance arrangements in the Armenia’s higher education[1].  Principle 1: There should be a clear governance model with clearly defined and distinctive roles and responsibilities and relationships of the main stakeholders in higher education: the state, academia and the market and the broader community. In the vision set by the government, the main responsibility of the state should be to set the regulations and incentives that enable autonomy and accountability for the higher education institutions. This will include setting a clear and shared by all vision for the higher education and its future, establishing favorable legal framework for the higher education institutions in the field, both public and private, establishing a well-functioning quality assurance system, allocating public funding to institutions and students on a clear and transparent and equitable basis. Through these mechanisms, the shift to state-supervised, rather than state-controlled model  (Vught, 1993) should be initiated and implemented, where the role of the government will be restricted to monitoring and regulating instead of a close control. In the provisions that are to be made for the improved governance, it is crucial that the state refrains from seeing universities as state-subordinate bodies. Instead, the state supervising model will better acknowledge the fundamental characteristics of higher education and will be able to stimulate innovative behavior in the system. Principle 2: The core components of higher education should be autonomy and accountability of institutions. Ensuring autonomy for the university is especially essential for the countries in transition, where the role of the universities to pursue truth and contribute to the overall democratic development process, shaping the new relations between various institutions, the society, the industry and the policy makers is crucial. The autonomy of the higher education institutions, declared on paper, should be made imperative and genuine in practice. It is well documented that systems that promote high autonomy are also better placed to produce positive results (e.g. see Fiszbein & Ringold, 2010). At the very minimum, the autonomy of the institutions can be promoted by removing the undue political influence on the governance and management matters of the institutions. Following Milovanovitch et al. (2015), this will mean  measures, such as limiting the number of governmental representatives in governing structures of institutions and reducing the scope of powers exercised by the Minister of Education and Science vis à vis higher education leadership. At the maximum, the state should stimulate a context and culture for the autonomy of institutions. This will include the presence of an independent governance and academic bodies, the appointment of merit-based leadership, the ability to set academic, financial, staff policies. At the same time, the universities must be able to assume ethical and managerial obligations and be accountable for their activities and results, overall performance and the use of the public resources. According to Salmi (in Fiszbein & Ringold, 2010), the universities must adhere to the two basic dimensions of accountability, such as the integrity and quality in the education provision and honesty in the use of financial resources. In practice, this will require strengthening the integrity of the internal quality assurance mechanisms, regular reporting on academic results and relevance of the programs, existence of instruments to prevent and punish corruption. These values are to be preserved not merely in the interests of the institutions themselves, but, in the longer term, of the state and all its citizens. Principle 3: The composition of governing bodies (size, representation, etc), their reserved functions, the role and powers of academic council should be reformed to encourage participation of all stakeholders. A strong and relevant governing body will ensure the effective stewardship of the universities and secure their long-term sustainability. A well-established and relevant board will be able to protect and support enhancement of the academic culture and community of the institution, secure effective use of public and other funds. Therefore, appointments of members to the governing bodies, both internal and external, including the post of the chairperson, should be made by election, or by means of a competitive process (e.g. a public advertisement process). A fundamental principle for the appointment and involvement of both internal and external members should be on the basis of their experience, competencies, understanding of the higher education context, as well as based on the peculiarities of the institution. The practices and principles of open government should become applied to the university governance as well. University board meetings should be open to the press and public, at the large. At the least, the agendas, reports, minutes should be made publicly available and transparent documents. This will increase the relevance and efficiency of the university boards.

[1] The definition of governance adopted in this paper by Marginson and Considine (2000, p.7 ) which runs as: ‘Governance is concerned with the determination of values inside universities, their systems of decision-making and resource allocation, their mission and purposes, the patterns of authority and hierarchy, and the relationship of universities as institutions to the different academic worlds within and the worlds of government, business and community’.

Note: original document was written as a policy brief for the Institute of Public Policy