It is great that RUFORUM was able to host a pre-event for Principals and Deans to receive leadership and management training facilitated by the Partnership for African Social and Government Research (PASGR) during the 13th Annual General Meeting in Malawi. PASGR’s main aim is to increase capacity of academic institutions and researchers to contribute research that informs social policy and governance through collaborative higher education programs. The meeting took the form of experiential learning with a former Dean who is now a Vice- Chancellor sharing his experience.
The guest speaker Prof. Paul Zaleza, the Vice Chancellor of United States International University-Africa (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya shared his personal experiences and what to expect in the field as a way to build confidence and inspire. He noted that when he was nominated for the position of Dean, he did a lot of reading to prepare for this position to know what it means and takes to be in this position. Following his experience of meeting good and bad Deans citing an example of one Dean who would never respond to emails and made people camp at his office in order to get a response, he decided to be different. He emphasized that Principals and Deans both newly appointed and incumbents should read the available literature which is contextually appropriate for their structures in order to prepare or better their Dean tenures.
Prof. Zaleza encouraged the Principals and Deans to spend some time getting acquainted with the institutional culture like he did through talking to both the teaching and non teaching staff to know the culture that drives the institution. He also advised the Principals and Deans to encourage their staff to share their publications in order to know how and what they think and their interests. Further, Principals and Deans need to have intercultural and interdisciplinary dialogues which are a priority as well as promotion of internationalisation in their institutions. He noted that he spent three years of his tenure working on these areas through putting emphasis on three particular areas. The first was raising the research profile and productivity of the college. The college was mainly focused on teaching and was now trying to turn into a research intensive university. This entailed reviewing collectively the leadership and policies and making sure they were supportive of such a priority. In addition, providing sufficient support to enable the faculty carry on their research as effectively as possible and developing a culture of celebration through a rewards system for research in the faculty in order to motivate the faculty staff.
Secondly, to ensure the faculty budgets are managed carefully for efficient financial management. Hence, faculty members need to be helped to understand why some finance expenses get cut and other priorities are pursued emphasising that issues of managing the budget and fundraising are extremely important and training in this area is essential for Principals and Deans.
Thirdly, how to improve the value opposition of higher education in terms of the skills given to the students as well as employability which requires articulation in African universities. Here, review of the general education curriculum to meet the market demands, training faculty members in teaching skills and adoption of new methodologies as well as strengthening student advising and mentoring are necessary.
To achieve all this one has to be very mindful of governance within the faculty which entails re-structuring and creation of college communities where people feel empowered and engaged. Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities makes it easy for accountability. Also make sure that the communities are representative along gender lines, race and nationality in order to keep up with interculturalism, interdisciplinarity and internationalisation. Principals and Deans and indeed the broad university leadership needs to be mindful about creating opportunity for leadership development in the different fields. Overall, there are four key roles for Principals and Deans to play, that is, to manage the different sectors of the faculty effectively, to provide leadership by having a vision, advocacy through connecting the top and lower management and finally, a Principal or Dean is the voice and face of the institution.
Written by Pauline Atim, Onsite Reporter for the RUFORUM AGM 2017.