Ensaio sob o mote "Key challenges for governments in improving the performance of Higher Education Systems (HES)", escrito para outros destinos (setembro de 2016).
There is a significant diversity of (HES) if one considers the level of national economic and societal development, the degree of autonomy granted to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the number and nature of higher education providers (which may include both public and private, as well as universities and polytechnics), the resources made available for tertiary education (being it human, financial or material) and, last but not least, the individual and social expectations on the mission of higher education.
Furthermore, systems evolve within a context of change, powered by an increased access to knowledge and enhanced mobility of knowledge holders, meaning not only more cooperation but also more competition.
Thus the rational for HES performance improvement cannot be detached from the specifics of each system, in place and time. There are, nevertheless, ever present themes such as the delimitation of the roles and responsibilities of governments, HEIs and agencies, and the very own definition of outcomes and measures. The former addresses institutional autonomy. One should bear in mind that there is no such thing as “the” right level of autonomy, since this is a social construct which cannot be decoupled of the actual functioning of society at large. It is a considerable, albeit needed, challenge for governments to question, and revise, autonomy boundaries and settings, since they may have a significant impact on the overall performance of HES. The later usually includes, but is not limited to, the population graduates ratio (qualification), unemployment rates among the tertiary educated (a proxy for labour market relevance of higher education), papers and citations (HEIs are a major research player), and innovation indicators (patents, start-ups).
However, when addressing system performance, governments have the responsibility to move beyond these metrics, already in use by most HEIs, and to look upon access equity and social mobility, territorial imbalances, individual development through education and socio-economic development through the use of knowledge, internationalization and attractiveness. As it is their responsibility to promote efficiency in a context of severe financial constraints, competition for resources and a demand for more accountability and transparency.
All these issues will determine the drivers available to governments for HES steering and improvement. There is no doubt that funding systems will remain an important driver requiring, in turn, a very sensible formulation and use, since they easily may lead to unintended consequences, such as institutional uniformity, whereas diversity is sought, a winner-takes-it-all result instead of across HES excellence, or mission drift.
But the major challenge for governments, in a domain where public funding is dominant, and where action and economic and societal outcomes may easily differ from a decade, remains the promotion of a broad social and political consensus on the path to follow, the resources to commit and the instruments to use, thus enabling the formulation and the effective prosecution of long or medium-term approaches at national levels, far beyond electoral cycles, and allowing for comprehensive HEI strategies.