A global survey on the leadership challenges faced by the Indian higher education system, Education Promotion Society for India (EPSI) (a national body of over 500 higher education institutions) reported that the sector is facing shortage of capable leaders.
According to the survey “Futuristic Approach to Development” was the most important trait of the transformational leader, followed by “Understanding of Higher Education Ecosystem”. The president of EPSI shared that the results were alarming and demand a serious attention by political leadership, policy makers, chancellors and vice chancellors, “We must agree to one fact that that leading Indian higher education is tough as the Indian higher education system is world’s third largest in terms of students (almost 22 million students enrolled in more than 46,000 institutions), next to China and the United States.” There is tremendous quantitative expansion in the Indian higher education institutions since independence, it has undergone significant changes in response to factors such as government policy, professionalism, accountability, rapid economic development, universality of education, influence of information technology, demands for increased access, and internationalization of education. Though there is quantitative expansion but the country lacks the critical mass in higher education. Its gross enrollment ratio (GER) is a mere 11 per cent compared to China’s 20 per cent, the USA’s 83 per cent and South Korea’s 91 per cent.
The overall scenario of higher education in India does not match with the global Quality standards. Hence, there is enough justification for an increased assessment of the Quality of the country’s educational institutions. We face issues of quality standards, too many regulatory bodies working in isolation, several policies which are out of alignment of the overall mission for e.g. taxation issues, student loans, service tax issues etc, also there are many quality gaps with respect to curriculum design and development, teaching, learning and evaluation, research consultancy and extension, infrastructure and learning resources, student support and progression, governance, management and leadership. These factors and issues require colleges and universities in India to restructure their management processes and modify their traditional notions about leadership, but this becomes problematic when most of the higher education institutions adopt a laissez-faire approach with no aspiration or motivation to assume additional responsibilities for quality improvement, this is one of the reasons that our universities are not ranked in the first 200 world class institutions by the expert ranking agencies. Therefore the prospects and development in the higher education sector in India needs a critical examination in a rapidly globalizing world.
A major step in this regard is taken by the government of India with its centrally sponsored flagship scheme Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). There is a strong emphasis on the need of leadership development for educational administrators in higher education. According to RUSA, “There is a need for professionalizing academic administration by building the competencies in the domains of leadership, and strategy, developing relevant systems and processes, and inculcating appropriate skills and attitude at all levels in the administration. There is an equal need to develop leadership acumen in current incumbents at various levels of university administration (Vice Chancellors, Pro Vice Chancellors, Registrars, Deans, and Heads) in the institutional hierarchy. There is equally a need to create a leadership pipeline in each institution to prepare for future leadership requirements.”
Usually the hierarchical posts of university/ higher education are filled by teaching community; who are supposed to train to teach and do research. These people may or may not possess or trained to be administrators. In this scenario few questions that arise are; what kind of leadership is required to make transformational change in the system of higher education in India? What styles of, or approaches to, leadership is associated with effective leadership in Indian higher education?’ This question provides a background for current thinking about leadership in higher education. The answer to this question can be Collegiality or participative decision making styles of leaders.
According to Tapper and Palfreyman, Collegiality is consensual decision-making, decisions are supposed to be arrived at through discussions and debates, and outcomes accomplished through the full participation of knowledgeable and committed peers. Another meaning of collegiality is mutual supportiveness among staff. Being ‘collegial’ in this sense means offering professional, and perhaps personal, support to others such as through reading drafts, mentoring younger staff and cooperative working. Challenges cannot be successfully mastered by leaders, nor can the efforts of dedicated leaders be sustained when the members within the institution are divisive, uncompromising, and inflexible. It is destructive to a Faculty/Department’s morale and effectiveness when the members are unable to accept responsibility for achieving institution goals. These elements lie at the heart of that salient, fundamental hallmark of successful interactions in education that is commonly called collegiality. Thus, collegiality is reflected in the relationships that emerge within Faculty/Departments of university. It is often evidenced in the manner in which members of the Faculty/Departments interact with and show respect to one another, work collaboratively in order to achieve institution goals, and assume equitable responsibilities for the good of the discipline as a whole. It is not be an exaggeration to say that in Indian higher education, collegiality is a key to professional work.
How can Leaders facilitate collegial atmosphere?
“Leadership is the development of a vision which dictates the framework within which one seeks to move. Without vision you can’t continue. A leader has to motivate people, making sure that they’re all going in the same direction. A leader has to maintain momentum and keep morale high. This involves getting people together, talking to them and listening to their views. Therefore leaders must be openly and transparently discussing in the staff meetings about collegiality, why collegiality is important, and how non-collegial behavior can ruin an institution. There must be discussion on why the institution may need a code of conduct. This reflects the concept that every individual pledges to treat colleagues with dignity, respect, and civility and to do their fair share of the workload tantamount to running a viable Faculty/Department in the university.
There is hardly any country in the world having social, economic, cultural and lingual diversity as complex as in India (Chattopadhyaya, 1975; Spencer Stuart, 2010). For any organization of large or moderate size in this country, the background, mental abilities and working capabilities of employees are quite heterogeneous Influencing such a diverse profile of employees, members, partners, stakeholders and customers using specific style of leadership is a real challenge. What we require in our institutions today is wise academic leadership (Vice Chancellor/Dean/Head) who in an environment of uncertainty and unpredictability can recognize that the most valuable assets in a university are its people and the intellectual capital they possess or the culture they create in the workplace. Our academic leaders must acquire the ability to use both directive behaviors showing the concern for outcomes at workplace and supportive behaviors that reflect a concern for people and help university community members feel comfortable about themselves, their colleagues and the situations in which they work. This will help establish the appropriate balance between credibility and approachability across different situations.
We therefore need administrators with skills of open communication, skill of sharing vision with others, skill of relation and trust building, skill of recognition and appreciation. Skill of consensus building, respect for others views, skill to take criticism and how to give positive feedback. What we require is strong academic leaders who can empower others within their areas of expertise by decentralizing authority, by building strong leadership team and by working towards the goal of advancing the university’s educational mission. Research has shown significant relationship between Vice Chancellors leadership styles and level of commitment and job satisfaction, the faculty’s morale tends to rise and fall accordingly.
The leaders in Indian higher education can and should focus on the training and development of faculty, reward and job involvement and participative decision making in the universities. They should promote a trust building culture and take measures for the benefit of faculty to bring more commitment and create a positive environment in the universities and better working conditions. Another important area, which should be focused by the decision makers of educational sector, is that the management must listen to senior faculty and the policy makers can turn their attention to determine the critical variables, which can improve job satisfaction and morale in our universities. Promotion of more shared responsibility and its associated participative discourse (Humes, 2000) seems to fit well with the values of many educational professionals who prize collegial norms and traditions in areas like curriculum design resenting what they see as threats to collegial values from managerialist and marketization trends.
A key issue in Indian higher education is not about what leaders should do, but what they should avoid doing. The higher level leadership in educational institutions are so obsessed with the bottom line that they forget that bottom line can be achieved only through delegation, empowerment and involvement of team members in the decision making process. To support the agenda of accountability and good performance educational leaders need to be proficient in leadership as a participative, democratic and innovative leadership style plays a pivotal role in improving the bottom line employees. Leaders must be role models of cooperative behaviour and establish an organizational climate in which such behaviour can thrive and people interact as equals to share their expectations and commitments and have frequent, productive interactions. When faculty members support, trust, respect, encourage one another, and choose to work together, professional opportunities for growth and improvement are created. Therefore Indian higher education can achieve better planning and productivity only with collaboration and shared goals because unless faculty members talk to one another, observe one another, and help one another, very little positive change can occur.
*Dr. Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor at the Department of Educational Administration, The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, India. She can be mailed at [email protected]