CHE symposium: Experts see education ministries as defenders of the social interest, sources of inspiration and consultants
“Tomorrow’s education ministries” will ensure that social goals are achieved in the academic system, will be responsible for the “rules of play” of competition and will be the consultants and providers of information for higher education institutions (HEIs). This ambitious role was shaped during the CHE symposium on the 3rd and 4th February 2010 in Berlin. It became clear during the symposium that ministries should explain which competencies they consider to be their own territory, which social goals they are striving for within the academic system and where they see themselves within the structure of German regional government. The “if and how” of the new image are indissolubly linked with those involved in it. In addition, regionally specific conditions do not provide for a standard model for “new-style” academic ministries.
”We first started dealing with the issue of how ministries should behave vis-à-vis autonomous HEIs in 2001,” said CHE head Prof. Dr. Frank Ziegele about the symposium. “Now, almost 10 years later, at our symposium, ministries have outlined a new, partnership-based relationship. We have seen that many things have changed in this direction in the ministries, from staff development and organisational structures to a stronger service orientation, but there is still a great deal to do.”
Examples showed that change is underway but has not yet fully permeated the ministries. Action is also needed in other areas. It became clear that it is not enough merely to install new public sector steering instruments, but it is also matter of how these instruments are handled. It works well when talks and negotiations take place on equal footing and face-to-face. Prof. Dr. Jürgen Prömel, president of the TU Darmstadt used the implementation of the TU Darmstadt university rules as an example.
The options for the roles were spelt out at the symposium, but only in rare cases have ministries discussed their understanding of roles internally as part of a strategy process and communicated it explicitly externally. For example, if a ministry commits itself to “maintaining social responsibility”, it is often not clear in which concrete social goals this becomes manifest. A positive example was given by Andrea Geisler, head of the higher education management department at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research in Vienna. The Austrian ministry held an intensive dialogue about the expectations of the ministry with all those involved.
The discussion with the participants also made it clear that a lot of work is needed in terms of reporting.
Symposium participants discussing the traditional and new tasks of education ministries on February 3rd with Egbert de Weert (Netherlands), Uffe Toudal Pedersen (Denmark), Frank Ziegele (CHE), Michael Stückradt (state secretary from the ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia), and Wilhelm Krull (Chairman of the Board of Foundation of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) (Photo: David Ausserhofer)
Overview of the lectures
At the start, CHE managing director Dr. Jörg Dräger put the headline question of the symposium, namely “Withdrawal or new tasks?”, to Prof. Dr. Klaus Landfried, former president of the German Rector´s Conference and to Prof. Dr. Jürgen E. Zöllner, the Berlin Senator for Education, Science and Research. The question was unanimously answered with “both”. “We cannot do without planning,” said Landfried. ”Creativity needs freedom”, said Zöllner in contrast. “Ministries must draw up sensible rules that support the goals aimed for.”
Dräger reminded the ministries that “goals and instruments should not be mixed up”. New steering instruments such as goal and performance agreements would only be able to change the academic landscape on a sustainable basis if there is also a “change of perspective and mentality”.
All speakers agreed that social interests, which the ministries should safeguard, should take priority over the individual interests of the “universities unbound”. Strong education ministries are very important as the defenders of research interests against finance ministries, state treasuries or audit courts. Last but not least, people are continuing to look to academic ministries for the successful implementation of the Bologna process or in terms of coping with the lack of experts.
Using examples, Dr. Egbert de Weert outlined the changes in Dutch role models over the course of history. Dr. de Weert, from the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS), has observed how other stakeholders have taken up control and steering functions now that universities have moved away from detailed steering.
In Denmark, important executive tasks such as research promotion and international scientific co-operation have been bundled in largely independent agencies and the political core of the education ministry was drastically reduced, said Uffe Toudal Pedersen from the Danish Ministry of Science.
State secretary Dr. Michael Stückradt used the example of North Rhine-Westphalia to show how the ministry has fostered a new, institutional understanding of their role as ”consultant to HEIs” by amending their competencies and undertaking internal reorganisation.
Dr. Wilhelm Krull, Chairman of the Board of Foundation of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, again emphasised the importance of social responsibility, which he said could only be held by education ministries. Ministerial reform in Lower Saxony is heavily influenced by human resources development measures, for example by deliberately recruiting new staff members with humanistic or technical backgrounds and skill profiles and preparing them for new strategic tasks. State secretary Dr. Josef Lange also affirmed the role of ministries as sources of inspiration and control bodies. He said that HEIs are accountable to society as long as they remain largely financed by taxes.
University representatives, for example the Mainz chancellor Götz Scholz, are hoping to find supportive partners in education ministries, with whom joint goals can be reliably negotiated in a two-way process. The goals strived for by ministries should be clear, but not the results to be negotiated.
Both sides expressed over and again a desire for working together in partnership. But practice shows that the decisive factor is not the structure but rather the people you meet in the departments. In the introduction to his report entitled “What does ministry actually do? Ideas for the education ministries of tomorrow", Ulrich Müller of the CHE said that the actual handling of the largely uniform instruments was decisive for success.
The second day was dedicated to the question of how HEIs and ministries can co-operate on a partnership basis. Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, Minister of Science, Research and the Arts in Baden-Württemberg, and Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Rothenpieler, head of office of the Bavarian Ministry, presented their views on and experiences of dealing with HEIs. Dr. Frankenberg said: ”HEIs and state ministries are no longer in a purely bilateral relationship. There are also social interests and the influences of external funding organisations such as the Federal Government and the European Union.” Dr. Rothenpieler said that a close, partnership-based relationship has lead to good results in Bavaria, also with respect to the decision to create study places, necessary as a result of the shortening of the number of school years in many Laender from 13 to 12 years, which will double the number of pupils in the final year of school.
From the HEI point of view, a partnership-based relationship already existed today, as affirmed by Prof. Dr. Hans Jürgen Prömel, president of the TU Darmstadt, who said that this new kind of relationship had already been the basis for negotiating the new TU Darmstadt university rules, and had been very helpful. Dr. Prömel is hoping that his ministry will provide long-term support for the academic sector in dealings with the finance minister. He also hopes that his ministry will lobby harder, e.g. in organising the framework for EU research programmes.
Harald Datzer, head of the Higher Education Office of Hamburg's Ministry of Science and Research (BWF) gave a report on internal reform and its effects for Hamburg. He said that the transfer from a hierarchical to a matrix structure with flexible project work had been successful: a basic department bundles together multi-disciplinary technical competences and specialised departments are responsible for the individual institutions. He said that the new structure had enabled a target-orientated and staff-friendly organisation of tasks and it promoted partnership-based working within the ministry and with the university representatives.
Dr. Waltraud Kreuz-Gers, head of the department of higher education management at the Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research and Technology (North Rhine-Westphalia), defined communication as the most important task of her ministry. She said that it currently took place to a greater extent between both the ministry and the HEIs, and executive and legislative bodies. She said that maintaining dialogue with the public was very important, as steering problems created by more autonomous HEIs are often considered in political discussions as a failure of policy, even in cases where responsibility has been passed to HEIs.
Andrea Geisler from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research also emphasised the importance of dialogue in her lecture. For the negotiation of performance agreements, the ministry has integrated the various hierarchical levels into internal change management.
In the final meeting, the participants discussed structural reform at HEIs and in ministries. The debaters self-critically questioned the extent to which the restructuring and qualification of human resources and the internal understanding of the new positioning in the education system have kept up with these structural changes. Joint further education of representatives from HEIs and ministries can contribute to a uniform understanding of central challenges in academic management. It also seems sensible to break up the competencies and hierarchies of ministries deliberately, at least for matters that go beyond the everyday routine of the executive, in order to release creative or strategic potential. The education ministry of Baden-Württemberg has founded a working group for this purpose (“AG Foresight”) that discusses the latest topics in higher education politics in a cross-hierarchical fashion and reports directly to the minister.
You can find the lectures and presentations given at the symposium on the right hand side after clicking on the link to the event.