Lessons Learned from Benchmarking University Governance in MENA Dr. Adel Zagha – Vice President for Administrative & Financial Affairs Birzeit University, Palestine Presented at the Regional Workshop in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco December 10-11, 2012 The University at a Glance: Birzeit University is a medium-scale university and it defines itself as a not-for-profit public Palestinina Arab Institution and is overseen by an autonomous Board of Trustees (BOT). In the beginning of the fall semester of the academic year 2012/2013 the number of students reached 10,004 of whom 85% are undergraduates, and 14% are graduate, while the rest are non-degree students. 64% of the students are females. In some faculties this rises up to 86% and in others it is only 37% with Nursing & Health Professions, Education and Arts faculties are the most feminized and faculty of Engineering being the most masculine. BZU has 334 full time faculty members of whom almost 55% are holding PhDs and in different ranks, 43% are holding master degrees, and only 2% are holding only a bachelor degree. The University also attracts a little more than 70 part-time faculty members of proven record in their disciplines. Birzeit University is a member of the Association of Arab Universities and a member of the International Association of Universities.
Key Results The following figure summarizes the findings on Palestinian average (left) and BZU self-perception (middle) and BZU Screening Card (right)
The Institution’s Response Context, Mission & Goals BZU’s vision states that: “Birzeit University strives to remain the premiere Palestinian university, acknowledged of excellence in higher-learning and education, research and community outreach. As the university is the destination of choice for the best and brightest of Palestinian students and professors alike, and being the place where Palestinian leaders in all walks of life are being embraced, it seeks to become one of the best universities in the Arab region in the medium-term, and a world-class university in the long-run.”
BZU’s new rephrased mission:
Context, Mission & Goals BZU scored below the national average in terms of context, mission & goals and below its own self-assessment due to these reasons: •The questionnaire requires that the university’s mission be compared to that of the nation. However, there was no adopted mission of the Ministry of Higher Education. •In the past, BZU did not have an adopted formal vision itself.
Management Orientation BZU performed much better than the national average and even above its own self-assessment.
Autonomy • BZU finds itself below the national average and below its own perception • BZU is a public university as defined by Palistenian Law of Higher Education. Public universities in Palestine are equivalent to a not-for-profit private universities in the west. • BZU depends less on government’s subsidy which represents only 5-7% of the university’s budget depending on the allocation from the government. However it is very dependent on the salary scale agreed upon all universities and the Union of the Employees. • In contrast to universities in Palestine, BZU president, VPs, and deans are appointed by a totally independent BOT and without any intervention from the PNA in any form.
Accountability In terms of Accountability, we did not recognize what the probem is. BZU’s financial statements are audited by an external auditor appointed by the BOT; from the president down to academic chairs are appointed to office for a limited time; and there is a system of checks and balances at the university. However, we are open to learn and improve the level of accountability.
Participation BZU finds itself way below its own perception and a little below the national average.
“Birzeit University is an independent, non-for-profit Palestinian institution of higher education, overseen by a free-standing board of trustees. The university seeks to achieve excellence in higher education and learning, contribute to the advancement of knowledge through research, and serve the Palestinian people, and in future days, the people of the Arab world. The University deeply believes in freedom of expression, democratic practices, intellectual pluralism and civilized discourse. The University seeks to graduate leaders who hold themselves to high standards of personal integrity, impartiality, critical-thinking and a lifelong commitment to learning in all walks of life.”
Management Orientation • New tuition policies whereby distortions were removed and cost-effectiveness of the tuition increased. • Review of the organizational structure • A fresh drive towards better investment policies with a close cooperation withe the private sector • The adoption of a zero-based budgeting and a faculty line system • Injection of business-oriented and experienced senior officers at top-level posts like the VP for Financial Affairs
Autonomy BZU is keen to: • Develop a salary scale different from the national one • Achieve accreditation of some of its programs through international mechanisms and to foster good experimentation and innovation in the field of new programs • Foster its own finances through utilizing its idle resources and close cooperation with the private sector • Invest in new faculty members through the Fellowship Program & the Scholarship Program
Accountability Though the the problem is not clear with regards to this dimension, BZU is willing to learn and move forward to instal and anchor new means to insure higher level of accountability and at all levels at the university.
Participation • The president proposed the creation of a senate at the univerrsity • The Employees’ Union put forward a concept note to promote women’s participation • The university is moving cautiously towards more engagement of elected students by students in the decision making processes • A hybrid of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms were utilized to ensure wider participation in strategic planning.
Future Plans The University is keen to utilize the Governance Screening Card again and examine the relative progress it may have achieved in all areas of governance. BZU also hopes to utilize this tool regularly maybe at the beginning of each new strategic planning exercise. BZU is experimenting in separating the Offices of VP for Administrative Affairs from that for Financial Affairs to get enough energy and capacity to improve both affairs. It has also embarked on a new VP Office for Advancement & Communication to boost its financial resources. BZU aspires to become a model for Palestinian universities and to achieve an international standard in terms of ranking. We believe that the UGSC exercise is critical to this process. Improvement of governance would help BZU achieve the following: • Ownership of plans to realize its aspiration where ownership is key to success. • Improve the functioning of reward and penalty system to eliminate deadwood which hinders the university’s way forward by improving the accountability procedures.
Lessons Learned • The UGSC exercise needs to be adapted to the context of the national systems of higher education. The diversity in these systems are well known in spite of the globalization of higher education. . • A glossary of well defined terms is absolutely necessary to ensure that people in the same nation are reading from the same page. Otherwise we believe the answers may be misleading. • Long telephone calls for the surveying and double checking of the information was terrible and a more face-to-face discussion was necessary to ensure familiarity with the national system before filling the questionnaire. • Governance remains to be a challenging mine filed in a country of political instability and under military occupation because “normal” assumptions do not match the reality and therefore comparisons between countries might be misleading and we encourage colleagues not to try to make such comparisons and limit the comparison within one country. • The belief that there is a universal model of governance may prove to be impractical and we better realize that national differences must be not only understood but embraced.