Higher education councils are the guardians of higher education autonomy
Position paper bundles experiences from the work of higher education councils
The heads of higher education councils have for the first time compiled a list of national recommendations for the work of these councils. The central demand was not to weaken higher education institutions by depriving higher education councils of power: without higher education councils, supervision for HEIs would once again fall back on education ministries. The position paper was discussed at the Forum for Higher Education Councils in Berlin by the Stiftverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and CHE Centre for Higher Education, and it was approved by more than 40 current heads of higher education councils.
The work of higher education councils has been criticised for years. Student representatives and individual professors argue that higher education councils cancel out the HEIs’ autonomy and subject HEIs to economic interests. However, the heads of higher education councils claim they instead defend higher education autonomy. “Higher education councils are indispensable organs of an autonomous HEI,” says the paper, which was prepared by Social Democrat politician Annette Flugmann-Heesing with the former head of the Science Council Winfried Schulze.
The position paper demands clear decision-making power for higher education councils but also warns against overloading the body with operative tasks: “It proved to be good practice, to determine the tasks of higher education councils in terms of strategic orientation (i.e. advising higher education management, calling for strategies and supervising implementation of these strategies), and also in terms of monitoring HEIs. These tasks require a higher education council with decision-making powers; a purely advisory council is unsuitable for such key tasks.”
The aim of the paper is to improve the work of higher education councils. Well-known public figures such as the former head of the Deutsche Bank Rolf E. Breuer, the former attorney-general Monika Harms and former top-politicians such as Bernhard Vogel and Monika Wulf-Mathies all worked on the paper. One of the recommendations is to be able to recall members of higher education councils, a provision that is lacking in most German states. The heads of higher education councils also suggested binding themselves to negotiated agreements such as the willingness to ensure the highest transparency levels and to report on focus topics and results of their own work.
from left to right: Prof. Dr. Winfried Schulze, head of Universität Paderborn’s higher education council; Dr. Horst Nasko, executive board of the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation, Munich; Prof. Dr. Frank Ziegele, managing director of the CHE Centre for Higher Education, Gütersloh; Dr. Annette Fugmann-Heesing, former member of the Berlin house of representatives and head of Universität Bielefeld’s higher education council; and Prof. Dr. Andreas Schlüter, secretary general of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, Essen. (Photographs: Peter Himsel/Stifterverband)
The Forum for Higher Education Councils is an information and exchange portal for council members with business, academic and public office backgrounds. The forum was founded by the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft in co-operation with the CHE Centre for Higher Education.