Most central and eastern European countries are undergoing breathtaking changes in practically all domains of their societies: political, social, cultural and economic. They face the multiple problem of consolidating newly won freedoms, like academic freedom and institutional autonomy, on the way to democratisation and professional market-oriented management. This takes place under difficult circumstances: a decline of 60% of GDP in the last seven years is not exceptional. Rampant inflation and political instability exist in some countries. Economic, but also other transitional problems, like lacking insight and experience in public management and in developing a democratic market oriented society, lead to an unstable environment. The velvet revolutions have led to many new laws on higher education and research; in Latvia (1995) and Hungary (1996) already to 'second generation' laws. The transformation into market-oriented democracies is a venture that cannot be completed either within a few years or in one or two steps. Central and eastern Europe will be involved for many more years in deep economic and political reforms, which give its transition unknown dimensions and cause a wide range of severe additional problems.

The western European approach to the topic does not have that many levels. Here, the trend is that the laws of the market should largely replace the laws of the State and be applied at local level. The ambition of the State to steer has become more modest. Consequently, the battlefield of institutional governance seems more narrow. However, it is not. Discussions en governance and autonomy are of the same magnitude and relative importance as in the cast. The question is how to deal with further deregulation and decentralisation, whereby the legislature indicated that it supports more autonomy, demands quality assessment, accountability, and steering through market mechanisms. The State did not really foresee that the space it left, is being filled by many inter- and intra-institutional regulations, even also when this space is rather virtual. Differences within national systems also increase: deregulation, decentralisation, and reinforcement of the independence of institutions being the main driving forces. Farrington (1995, p. 33) argues that in the UK before 1992, a considerable variation existed already, but that nowadays there is no single agreed system of governance in universities, although they are all trying to do the same job. Gieseke (1991) had already pointed to a falling away of the collegial model.

1.2.3 Examples of good practice

It seems impossible to formalise principles of governance in uniformly applicable recommendations, legislation or conventions, and certainly not in a policy with a pan-European validity. Internationally acceptable models for the governance of higher education and research exist in theory, but their implementation is, when tried, always watered down. The institutional diversification of the higher education and research sector magnifies trends towards fragmentation of legislation. It is evident that the different characteristics of universities and non-university higher education institutions, their staff and students, require highly diversified institutional regulatory structures on governance. Fundamental differences in framework laws on higher cducation and research seem less obvious.
Despite mind-boggling diversity, referring to models of institutional by-laws is still a popular past time. However, these models are only examples of good practice. Only a few of them provide an interesting catalogue. Models easily lead to the establishment of tablets of stone, ignorance of new developments, and protection of established interests. Copying parts of good pieces of work from another country and borrowing policy are risky operations as they disregard the dissimilar behaviour of managers, staff and students, driven by culture, interests and specific circumstances, underlying norms and values, timeframe, and an increasing number of viable options (In 't Veld, Füssel, Neave, 1996; p. 12, 43). Nonetheless: the quest to improve regulations on governance must be continued for at least four reasons: to improve management and reduce irrational or sub-optimal behaviour; to enforce minimum standards of democracy and legitimacy; to facilitate (international) co-operation; to get (more) value for (less) money.

1.3 Definitions

1.3.1 Governance, management and administration

Buying one computer is a decision with the same juridical consequences - payment and delivery - as buying 10 computers; it is usually seen as administration. However, buying 100 computers may be in the realm of strategic governance. Who takes which decisions, what is the authority and motivation of the decision maker, and who pays the bill? 'Governance' and 'management' are often used alternately, but this neglects the importance of the legal status and the 'culture' of the environment. We have to distinguish between public and private legal status. The specific features of the interfacc between private and public are decisive for the choice of managerial options in a hybrid higher education institution. In 4 and 5, I will elaborate further on this point. In this essay:

  • (enterprise) management is used with reference to management methods that originate from the private sector, in particular concerning goal-setting, strategie decision-making, initiating and monitoring (top management).
  • (public) governance is used to indicate the concept of how a (semi-)public system is organised and managed, how authority is distributed and exercised, and how public accountability and assumed State responsibilities influence legal structures. It supposes additional dimensions: democracy and the pursuit of general public interests.
  • administration: detailed organisation of daily operations of a public or private institution.
These definitions basically follow Harman (1992, p. 1280; drawing from Viljoen, 1991). The difference is the 'public' flavour attached to governance; and the 'private' flavour of management as Mintzberg (1 996) states: 'government may need managing, but management could use a little governing too.' Thus: higher education should be governed, managed and administered, despite the 'managed institutions' that in the early nineties emerged in the UK, and, generally, the call for professional managers. The terminology still rather confuses the jurist. For the purpose of this article, it is the quintessence that we talk about changing, steering and administering systems and organisations comprised of a specific constituency: about how to transmit steering messages, incentives and decisions inside and outside this constituency, in a democratic manner.

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