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Collegial governance drives quality

There is a long tradition of collegiality in the university sphere. It is based on the principle that scientific discourse and solid argumentation among peers are what best help to maintain and develop quality in research and education, and that colleagues are both willing and able to contribute to such an environment. In a setting like this, people share responsibility. While older colleagues are expected to guide their younger peers, the argument always takes priority over age or position.

And bearing in mind the way universities are structured, it is among researchers and teachers that the most detailed knowledge of research and education content is to be found. It is difficult in any simple, obvious way to claim authority over the knowledge of the research group if you are not part of that group, or if you work in another subject field or somewhere else higher up the university hierarchy. Instead it is peers, colleagues in the same or adjacent disciplines, who are best placed to expound on the quality of the research or education in question.

Having a collegial structure in place that considers the needs, thoughts and opinions of those closest to the everyday reality at the university regarding research and education is important for other reasons too. Decentralised governance founded on scientific expertise and discussion stands on firmer ground, and this bolsters the universities’ autonomy and independence as regards political governance.

At the same time it can also, somewhat paradoxically, make a seat of learning more agile. It can increase flexibility related to research and the focus of education relative to the wider world, both nationally and internationally. This is because the people most familiar with the status of research in a particular field can best suggest changes.

As well as being pivotal to any scientific environment, collegiality is also a form for exerting influence, executing governance and taking responsibility. As a form for governance, scientific judgement can be used as a basis for more general quality appraisals in a broader subject group, for instance in decisions relating to quality-enhancement measures, education plans or qualification requirements in third-cycle education. In the same way, collegial governance could also include participation in general discussions about, say, operational plans, regardless of where the formal decisions are made.

The collegial approach also needs to co-exist alongside a more traditional line organisation, where managers have a clearly defined mandate and responsibility to work with all manner of issues related to staffing, resource allocation, monitoring and the work environment. In some cases, of course, it may not be immediately clear if a matter should be dealt with by the line organisation or be subject to peer consideration. While this may not always be possible to determine one way or the other, it is nevertheless vital that here, too, wisdom and good judgement from across the organisation are allowed to be factored in.

I hope, and indeed firmly believe, that it is possible to build an organisation with a strong faculty structure alongside a strong line organisation.This can only benefit both development and quality in a university.