Previous page



University administration
Also a global pursuit

 

Universities have always been international by nature: research knows no boundaries, neither linguistic nor national. University teachers have always travelled to foreign countries to meet colleagues and to `compare notes', so to speak. During the last few decades, university students have also been enclosed in this internationalisation process, thanks to a great number of scholarship programmes.

Recently, university administrators have also been drawn into this international whirlwind. It started with the administrators in the international offices, who are responsible for organising the international exchanges of teachers, researchers and students. But now all the different specialists within the university administration are also invited to participate in the international fora of their own sectors: financial managers on financial matters, technical managers on technical and real property matters, etc.

The Nordic Association of University Administrators, NUAS, which was founded 26 years ago and which is one of the most active regional gatherings, operates in practice via its more than ten planning groups covering different sectors of university administration and management. The planning groups consist of two members from each Nordic country, and they organise _ every two years or so _ a specialist seminar on a current topic within that particular sector. Last year, for instance, the University of Helsinki helped arrange a two-day seminar for lawyers working on research contracts and issues pertaining to intellectual propery rights, and another on a number of human resources management issues.

University rectors have long had their own international and European associations. However, now heads of university administration also have an association of their own since, a few years ago, the network HUMANE was founded, with EU support, for the "heads of university management and administration", be they "heads of administration, university directors, secretaries and registrars or Kanzler"! Six professional workshops (always from Friday noon till Saturday night!) are organised annually in the various EU universities, with very hands-on accounts of specific administrative problems and new solutions. The speakers come mainly from amongst colleagues, with an introduction to the host university by the local rector. This year, the topics have included, for example, management issues related to student access, research management, human resources, financial matters and environmental issues in management.

Researchers into higher education management problems, as well as rectors, heads of administration, other senior administrators and OECD experts, meet each other at the conferences, seminars, workshops and research projects of the Institutional Management of Higher Education, IMHE. It is a programme operating in connection with OECD, but mainly financed through the fees from its member universities (roughly 170) from the OECD countries. IMHE also publishes a Higher Education Management Journal, which comes out three or four times a year. Some of the latest activities of IMHE include short seminars on current management problems (for example, last year on the management of university museums) as well as training seminars for new heads of universities, be they rectors, vice-rectors, or heads of administration.

`Benchmarking' as a method has recently been borrowed from the business world for the evaluation of university administration. This began among the Commonwealth universities, which share both the same working language and, to some extent, their cultural backgrounds. But it has now been tried out between universities with different mother tongues: in 1997-1999, the University of Helsinki carried out a benchmarking project with the University of Stockholm in Swedish. Many useful things were learned from each other and then tried in practice, and our close contacts continue in the form of exchange of administrative staff. The other foreign partner was the University of Amsterdam and the work was carried out in English, a language foreign to both parties. This positive experience has also been continued through a number of informal site visits, concentrating on current issues of university management, such as structural changes in university governance, or how to organise a university library system (cf. "Learning by Comparing", eds. A. Virtanen & S. Mertano, Publications of Higher Education Evaluation Council 12:1999, Helsinki: Edita).

At the global level, university administrators meet every two years under the auspices of IMUA, International Meeting of University Administrators, which will next convene in Helsinki on August 19-24, 2001, with all the universities in the Helsinki Region acting as the local hosts. The main theme of the conference is VALUES AND CULTURE IN HIGHER EDUCATION: THE IMPACT AND CHALLENGES, which will be dealt with under four subthemes: 1. Ethical Questions and Values in University Leadership, 2. Information Technology and Electronic Business in Higher Education, 3. Sustainable Development and Environmental Management in Universities, and 4. Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation in Higher Education. The keynote speakers include eminent Finnish and foreign scholars, rectors, ministerial experts. The conference also contains a sizable cultural programme, as four of the organising universities are art and music schools. IMUA is the most global in nature of the gatherings here described, and many of the participants come from the developing countries.

Active participation in the planning and work of such international gatherings provides excellent opportunities for university administrators not only to use and improve their foreign-language abilities, but also to improve their own administrative work by comparing ideas and processes, by using them as benchmarks or even by `stealing' them in order to solve their own problems. I believe this is one of the best forms of personnel training, both as a form of life-long learning for older administrators and as an introduction to and motivation for university administration as a career for newer colleagues!

Welcome to Helsinki in August 2001!

Sinikka Mertano
Head of Administration
University of Helsinki