Monday, October 12, 2020

Thoughts on University Autonomy

 John A. Akec

When I was growing up, I did not see myself working anywhere else except serving as academic at university. And as far as I was concerned and could remember, being a university professor was the most fascinating vocation to pursue. I didn’t care and didn’t matter which particular university I was going to end up at. And by the way, so far, I have no regrets.


Universities in many ways are very similar in what they do, in how they look, their rituals and traditions are the same, and in type of customer base they serve; from Harvard, to Oxford; from Berlin to Paris; from Cape Town to Nairobi and Makerere; you name it. They share awful lot in common. Not surprisingly, universities trace their linage to Greek academies that were established by Plato, Pythagoras, and Sophists back in the sixth century Greece. The departments of humanities at our universities are rooted in Plato academies that were devoted to discovering truth for its own sake, and truth for philosophers destined to be kings. Engineering and science departments originated from Pythagorean academies which taught mathematics and astronomy. And our of social sciences departments drew their inspiration from Sophists who taught rhetoric seen as necessary for success in life.


The modern university began to take shape in the medieval era, and was defined as a “community of masters and students” with a unique personality and soul. This unique personality is identified by “a name and a central location, masters with a degree of autonomy, students, a system of lectures, and a procedure for examinations and degrees…and an administrative structure with its faculties”, according to Clark Kerr.


Early universities were founded and run by religious institutions, mainly Christian monasteries and Islamic madrasas, and support by the kings. Their targets were elitist boys. However, the development of printing press in the sixteenths century enabled books to be published in large numbers, and led to spread of knowledge. It also allowed learning to move from the ancient system of one-to-one instruction, to one-to-many learning mode of today. As universities spread, higher education began to massify with support of the church. Other universities were established as private foundations supported by endowments from wealthy individuals. The number of universities increased from 10 universities between 1800 and 1809, to 131 universities world wide between 1850 and 1859. And by 1990s, the number of university degrees awarded in the United States alone rose to 1.05 million degrees compared to 28,600 in early 1900s. And by 2000, US alone had some 4000 higher education institutions.


Furthermore, from seventeenth century, governments influence on universities began to increase as the religious influence was beginning to wane. In fact, university today can neither be strictly classified as private or public, but unique. And while more than 80% of European universities would classify as ‘public,’ the majority of leading US universities are private foundations, and most civic universities in Britain have foundation status. And compared to American or British universities, the European, Japanese, and Chinese universities are heavily regulated by the state. Whereas, the Anglo-Saxon universities (American, British, and Australian), enjoy more autonomy than anywhere in the world. Influence is exercised by their governments indirectly by their governments through incentive systems and performance based funding.


And as higher education continues to massify globally in order to include those from lower income brackets, public funding to universities has been declining. And the governments are encouraging universities to innovate and reduce overdependence on public funding. And research has also has shown that heavy regulation by the state can stifle creativity and ability of universities to think out of box and react promptly to the opportunities and threats in their operating environments. Hence, the current global trend is tilting towards shifting of the university to the American and British governance models that give universities more autonomy.


Finally, the University of Juba has many values that support our vision. Beside cherishing independent thought, celebration of scholarship, creativity, and initiative; is the University autonomy. Thus, through our governing structures, guided by our internal statues; and what we see to serve the best interests of our students and staff, we will continue to respond promptly to trends and changes in our operating environments, nationally, regionally, and globally.


  • Very important thoughts. Am personally thrilled with the leadership qualities and great academic ideas you portray in the University of Juba.

    By Blogger Charles Lado, At 9:15 AM  

  • Very insightful article prof

    By Blogger James Majong Matueny, At 12:39 AM  

  • We are Inspired and thrilled through your Academic achievement and great contributions made in developing University of Juba. Thank you.

    By Blogger John Alei Wol Alei, At 3:32 PM  

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