Private income does not equal tyranny 1

December 10, 2009

It is certainly true that there is a "Global revolution" in private provision (26 November), notably in Central and Eastern Europe. As someone who has planned, managed and is now chairing the governing body of a public-private not-for-profit university in the Republic of Macedonia, I have experienced this at first hand, and it is a key challenge in our risk assessment and strategic planning.

The Unesco report Trends in Global Higher Education is correct: many private institutions in this and other regions are run on a simple business model that exploits gaps in public provision. However, governments are acting to curb growth on quality grounds: witness the Republic of Kosovo's recent cull in the number of private universities from 31 to two.

In the region, governance and management of the best institutions are based on good practice taken from the UK and continental Europe. There are also a few examples of strong US influence, as research shows that the adjective "American" in an institution's name is a key market advantage.

Being dependent entirely on self-generated income rather than state subsidy does not necessarily mean concentrating power in a vast highly paid corps of administrators and accountants. Far from ignoring the views of staff or treating students as customers, institutions such as ours seek to form a consensus to achieve corporate goals and maximise income while delivering high-quality teaching and research.

My message is that there is no room for the sort of confrontational management and cult of personality I encountered in my last job in the UK, and much to be gained by everyone "singing the same song". UK institutions have much to learn from studying how to run free from government control and live within their means while still managing to provide high-quality learning relevant to graduates' needs.

Dennis Farrington, President of the board South East European University, Republic of Macedonia.

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