Shape of things to come?
For those who believe, as I do, that university autonomy is a clear prerequisite for excellence in higher education, there is alarming news from Arkansas in the United States. Senator Jimmy Jeffress is pushing for a measure to be put to the voters of Arkansas that would, if passed in a referendum, establish a state governance body for all the state’s universities which would take over from the governing boards of the universities themselves.
Under this proposed measure that state’s Governor would appoint the board, and this in turn would set the strategy and the finances (including tuition fees) of the whole sector. The leadership of individual institutions would then solely be charged with the management of the implementation of these strategies.
For those who might feel that this couldn’t happen here, it is worth pointing out that Senator Jeffress’ initiative came out of a general popular disillusionment with the state’s universities and is clearly intended as a populist measure. His views on why this is necessary might well resonate with some voters over here. Furthermore, from the information leaked so far, the Hunt working group working on Irish higher education strategy may have been flirting with similar ideas, if not quite as far developed.
Universities will need to be careful that they do not lose the initiative on higher education policy.