Management Of University Study Programs From Theory To Practice

Abstract

In the current context of making high level qualifications, the university environment wrestles with a series of questions regarding the necessity of ensuring a better adaptation of the graduates’ skills to the needs of the labour force, which results in ensuring a better coherence of university professional training programs. If, not long ago, the performance of university study programs was based on the professionalism and personal commitment degree of each teacher, now more and more emphasis is put on the team work. Under these circumstances, the purpose of the study is to highlight the need to perform in universities such a specific management to university professional training programs. This problem is approached from the perspective of several basic questions: Are there theoretical justifications supporting the necessity of a management specific to university professional training programs? Do the usual university practices reveal the necessity of a specific management of the professional training programs made in the academic environment? How can the specific management of university professional training programs be defined? What are the dimensions of the management specific to university professional training programs? Who can ensure the specific management of university professional training programs? The conclusion of the article is that the assurance of a specific management of university professional training programs involves the preparation of a coherent strategy for the design and implementation of such a program, conceived through combining the program philosophy and the university pragmatics axes.

Keywords: Academic qualificationsuniversity professional training programsuniversity professional training programs management“distributed” management of university professional training programs

1.Introduction

It is easy to notice the existence at a European level and at a national level of constant concerns to

ensure the internal and external quality of university programs. In the current context marked by

permanent reviews and curricular reforms, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher

Education traces several basic coordinates in the field of definition, design and assessment of the skills

offered by these programs. Generally, through the university programs, two fundamental categories of

graduates are formed: a. researchers and b. professionals – who will work in concrete activity fields. The

ambition of the university environment is to confer on all graduates both skills for the research field and

practical skills necessary to exercise professions which are well-defined in the nomenclature of the

qualifications agreed at a national level. On the other hand, the labor market which is open to high level

university qualifications is more and more flexible and unpredictable. We can say that faculties perform

their activity at the interference of the external requirements regarding the quality of education with the

internal quality standards and with the labor market formulating permanent criticisms to graduates’

preparation. In their turn, students bring in such equation higher and higher expectations to teachers and

the university training offered to them. In addition, there is the competitive condition installed in the

university environment further to the launching of the process related to the classification and

hierarchization of institutions and study programs.

It goes without saying that, under these circumstances, the UTPM (university training program

management) becomes more complex.

2. Are there Theoretical Justifications Supporting the Necessity of a Management

Specific to University Professional Training Programs?

The theory analysis, but especially the analysis of university practices, reveals that, usually, the

study program management is ensured by the head of the didactical team designing and ensuring the

implementation of such program. Most of the tasks of such head are bureaucratic: the head manages the

didactical team, establishes tasks and roles for the teachers teaching in that study program, establishes the

temporary reference points for the program performance (the timetable), coordinates the activities for

assessing learning results in accordance with the criteria established and agreed at an internal level.

These tasks are associated, usually in a limited manner, to curricular management.

In a much more realistic vision, the management of the contents of training programs should target

much more comprehensive aspects – as recommended by the newer curricular theories signaling the

necessity to adopt integrative visions on professional training processes. In this spirit, L. Craig Wilson

highlights, ever since 1971, the interactive nature of the areas of curriculum, namely the organised

disciplines of knowledge, the human processes and the unique attitudes and values an individual acquires

toward and about himself, his reference groups, and his society (apud Paul A. Nelson, 1973, p. 313) .

Those who set all these mechanisms and conditions in motion are, of course, the people.

This is the reason why the human resource issue and the manner to use human resources for

various professional purposes represent a constant concern of theoreticians. They highlighted that in any

work team people have different skills and abilities, which leads to the creation of new potential

resources, which deserve to be valorized from a managerial point of view. An interesting solution is

offered in this respect by Edwin Hutchins who, leaving from the premise that cognition is socially

distributed, proposes a new type of management of human resources: distributed leadership. He considers

that ‘These systems start by designing an initial model—or set of models—that establish key leadership

roles, how those roles will be deployed to support teams of teachers and what processes the system will

need to support the new structure. They then pilot and refine these models, gathering feedback from

stakeholders and making improvements based on what they learn’ (Hutchins, 1995, p.51).

In our opinion, such a vision can also be assimilated in the university environment where it can be

adapted to the specific nature of the study program management.

3.Do the Usual University Practices Reveal the Necessity of a Specific

Management of The Professional Training Programs Made in the Academic

Environment?

In the context of the increase of the general interest of the universities everywhere to optimize the

quality of study programs, we also notice the Romanian concerns to find certain levers and instruments

supporting this process. We note, in this respect, the remarkable results obtained at the level of achieving

a better organization of university study programs after the creation in 2005 of the Romanian Agency for

Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ARACIS). ARACIS prepared standards, strategies and

procedures to credit and authorize university study programs (according to ARACIS Guide, 2006),

suggesting, among others, certain manners for the internal coordination of such programs. However, the

agency did not intend to intervene in detail in the manner in which universities organize their activities

internally, but establishes types of results and relevant effects for achieving quality education. Thus, the

manner to perform the study program management is at the discretion of each supplier of university

programs.

On the occasion of the visits ARACIS makes in universities, it is established that certain program

suppliers have better concerns and results in the UTPM field, others are less concerned with such aspects.

A situation which drew attention on the importance of the university professional training program

management was created in Romania on the occasion of the debates on the necessity to rethink the

national teachers’ training program. The initiative belonged to the “Coalition for education” Federation

which launched a public debate organized under the title “Romania educated” (2016). On this occasion,

133 public testimonies/depositions were prepared, within which the importance of the management of the

study programs on which the granting of the teacher qualification is based was highlighted. Also, the

necessity to professionalize management positions, through their opening to the outside of the system and

other aspects related to the formation and role of human resources in education were underlined (See:

coalitiaedu.ro). These types of conclusions challenge the university environment to rethink the managerial

practices based on which study programs are generally made, all the more so as there are no initiatives to

standardize this activity.

4. How Can the Specific Management of University Professional Training

Programs Be Defined?

Our recent studies highlighted that there is little concern to define university professional training

program management. We suppose that, in the vision of many practitioners, this activity type does not

require a distinct specialization but can be limited to the exercise by the department heads of the 5 general

management functions defined by Fayol, (1917), i.e. : planning, organization, management, coordination,

control.

Consequently, the concern of department heads is especially oriented to the cognitive and

cognitive-formative aspects of the performance of university programs. Actually – as already highlighted!

- UTPM is a management type not limited to curricular aspects, but supposes the strategic handling of

several factors and conditions ensuring the performance of the study program all the way, from the design

stage to the graduates’ integration on the labor market.

From a practical point of view, the managerial process is to ensure the ‘inspired’

complementarization of at least four coordinates: the specific contents of the university training program

(UTP); the trainers’ team ensuring the implementation of the study program; the training needs of

immediate =beneficiaries =(the =students); =the =expectations =of =the =targeted =long-term

beneficiaries/employers.

Figure 1: Relationships between the basic coordinates of UTPM
Relationships between the basic coordinates of UTPM
See Full Size >

The use of the term inspired takes into account that any management type – no matter how well

grounded from a theoretical point of view – supposes the confrontation with situations and/or factors with

an unpredictable, conjunctural nature.

From a technical point of view, ‘ensuring the management of a study program supposes going

through several stages which are absolutely necessary: establishment of the team of experts involved in

the implementation of the study program, preparation of/discussion on the graduate’s competence profile

by the team members, association of each discipline to be studied to the general or specific competences

it can develop, assumption by each teacher of the task of developing the competences distributed to the

discipline he/she teaches, design and performance of a periodic evaluation – by the team of experts – to

verify the extent to which the specific and partial competences of the study program were acquired,

identification of the difficulties and organization of remedial programs, achievement of refresher

programs before holding study completion exams, selection of the theoretical and practical contents to be

included in examination tests according to the criterion of relevance for the graduate’s competence

profile’ (Ezechil, 2013, p.10).

However, students’ role is not passive. On the contrary, ‘they have to be involved in the

preparation of professional projects based on permanent professional training’ (Langa, 2015).

5. What Are the Dimensions of the Management Specific to University Professional

Training Programs?

Accentuating the premise that the aspects which are defining for the good operation and

implementation of university study programs are complex and of high diversity, we consider that UTPM

supposes the achievement of a balanced combination between curricular management and distributed

leadership. It means, therefore, that UTPM does not represent a global approach of the process/program,

from the height of the decisions from where then, when needed, corrections are applied.

Actually UTPM supposes several types of activities and, accordingly, several management types,

even the existence of several managers.

The adoption of such a strategy is based on preparation of a philosophy on the study program

which should be assumed by all the members of the teaching staff since it corresponds to the vision of the

entire team promoting it.

Consequently, the application of this management formula supposes the consideration of the

following dimensions:

Figure 2: Management types specific for UTP
Management types specific for UTP
See Full Size >

Therefore, the table above puts in a relationship the different management types with different

activities which are associated to university study program design and performance stages. It is

understood that the five functions of the general management mentioned by Fayol could be applied at the

level of each of the management types highlighted above.

The fundamental question arising from here is: who can ensure the general management of a

university study program so that all such dimensions can be coordinated and complementarized?

6. Who Can Ensure the Specific Management of University Professional Training

Programs?

As we know, older managerial theories followed the model of the hero manager, a true superman

who knows everything and has a multidimensional expertise. In the university environment this model

can still be found in the person of the department head who is vested with all the responsibility of

ensuring the success of the program/programs he/she manages. In reply to such practices, reality itself

demonstrates that overcharging a single person with duties is counterproductive. The optimum solution

seems to be to promote a management type which is at the same time ‘position-based and distributive’

(OECD, 2003, p. 3). This model is based on the idea of maintaining the program coordinator/the head of

the department as a main actor in achieving the UTPM, provided that he knows ‘to create teams with a

shared mission’ (Bierly, et al., 2016.p.42.).

In this manner the management is ‘distributed’ among several persons taking over parts/sequences

of the program design and/or performance and collaborating in order to reach the common targets, agreed

by team members.

Edwin Hutchins offers a concrete strategy for the application of such strategy when he proposes:

‘these systems start by designing an initial model—or set of models—that establish key leadership roles,

how those roles will be deployed to support teams of teachers and what processes the system will need to

support the new structure. They then pilot and refine these models, gathering feedback from stakeholders

and making improvements based on what they learn’ (1995, p.51).

The application of the distributed management formula offers several advantages which are easy to

verify in practice:

the achievement of a better coordination of the teams of teachers participating in the program performance; the better correlation/complementarization of cognitive and cognitive-applicative tasks of the training process which are distributed to the disciplines in the curriculum plan; the better awareness by each teacher of his/her roles regarding the teaching of a certain education discipline until the program strategic targets are reached.

There are, also, of course, certain risks in applying distributed management which can delay (even

eliminate!) the occurrence of the abovementioned advantages:

the program philosophy may not be well understood and appropriated by the members of the

teaching staff; the department head may attempt to continuously impose his/her own vision limiting the manifestation of his/her colleagues’ initiative and expertise; the teams may not collaborate with one another but, on the contrary, work fragmentarily, totally ignoring what the other colleagues do.

For all the mentioned reasons, the main ‘ingredient’ ensuring the success of such a combined managerial formula is the creation of a team of honest experts.

7. Conclusions

Many Romanian higher education institutions face the necessity to optimize the university study

program management. Most of them are aware of the advantages of distributing managerial roles to a

team of teachers sharing their activities and the liability to perform them. It is easy to establish that where

such aspects awareness degree is increasing attempts to put this model into practice also appeared and the

desirable results soon occurred.

The basic observable indicators for the appearance of the expected positive effects are: the

coherence of intentions, the coherence of the taken actions and the coherence of the obtained results.

All these become possible when the person ensuring the general management knows ‘how to work

towards whole-staff consensus on school vision’ – as recommended by an important document of OECD

(2003, p.20).

The authority of this person is not affected as a result of sharing power. The person’s main role is

comparable to that of an orchestra director. Each musician manifests in a disciplined manner focusing in

the performance on his/her own instrument, but only the director ensures, by his/her activity, that the

general esthetic effect is obtained.

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.3

Online ISSN

2357-1330