Monday, July 4, 2022

University Autonomy

Written by Mimi Leung, Yojana Sharma, Maina Waruru, Dinesh De Alwis, and Wachira Kagotho

In Hong Kong, the recent new administration under John Lee has raised concerns for university autonomy as commentators mention his autocratic leadership as a former deputy police commissioner. John Lee was appointed through Beijing approved administration to perform as the new chief executive which also implies chancellor of Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities such as the leading University of Hong Kong. Lee’s interference with the universities’ autonomy aligns with his performance as the former deputy commissioner and secretary of Security Council until 2021 where he implemented the National Security Law (NSL) that was established in 30th June 2020. The NSL formed severe penalties, with the likelihood of life imprisonment for subversion, secession, and collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts. NSL formed the special national social security to investigate such cases and allowed special national security judges to hear them. The implementation of NSL has resulted to derecognition of student unions, removal of monuments commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from university campuses, and curbing of other student activities. It is assumed that Lee’s regime will ignite harsh conditions for the university officials and students.

In Kenya, the MPs recently rejected the Universities Amendment Bill 2022 that was set to curtail the university autonomy. The bill was to replace the University Act of No. 42 of 2012 that gives unfettered powers to public university councils despite efforts to decentralise governance and management of universities. In the proposed bill, the cabinet secretary would have the authority to revoke appointments, transfer, or sack office bearers and even set aside decisions of senate and university councils. This implies that the cabinet secretary would have gained powers to appoint and control selection panels for the appointment of top university officials. The cabinet secretary, Magoha, mentioned the need for the proposed bill to be implemented to lessen the influence of university councils in restricting staff, raising tuition fees, and reorganizing departments without consulting the ministry of education. However, the MPs rejected the bill as unconstitutional because there was no public participation or consensus action on those issues.


Transdisciplinary Collaboration Critical for Future of Science

The Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress (SRI 2022) that was held in the University of Pretoria has called for transdisciplinary research in Africa in order to gain progress in science and innovation as tools to handle challenges that derail social and economic transformation of the African continent. The conference concluded that there is the need to nurture collaborations of both intra Africa and external actors that will accelerate the deployment of science based interventions in handling most challenges that continent encounter. However, the researchers across Africa cited the slow approach of governments in financing research as they gradually appreciate the importance of innovations in addressing the continent’s challenges.

In South Africa, researchers have engaged the political leadership to identify the need to increase funding in science as a good measure of spending country’s resources. Recently, the government pledged US $75 million for a period of three years to fund the researchers’ activities. In Kenya, the government through the National Research Fund allocated Kshs. 5.8 billion while Kshs. 284 million was gained from development partners to fund agriculture, natural science, biological science, biological and health sciences, physical industrial and energy sciences, infrastructure and communication, humanity and social sciences, and earth and space science research activities. Yet, researchers advocate for greater investments in research activities that will improve the condition of the country by presenting sustainable solutions.

The Effect of Current Global Economic Crisis on Higher Education Institutions

Presently, most economies, such as the upper, middle, and low-income economies have been adversely affected by COVID-19 pandemic and the current Russia-Ukraine conflicts. These economies are experiencing higher inflation and tighter financial conditions hence a slump in global economic growth from 5.7% in 2021 to 2.9% in 2022. It is assumed that the condition will remain the same in years 2023-2024 since the war in Ukraine has disrupted investment and trade activities, pent-up demand has declined, and the fiscal and monetary policy accommodation has been dismissed. In Sri Lanka, the situation is severe as there is unprecedented levels of inflation of 58%, near depletion of foreign exchange reserves, shortages of medical supplies, and increase in basic commodity prices. Sri Lanka’s economic crisis began in 2019 because of the tax cuts, money creation, a nationwide policy to embrace organic or biological farming, the Easter bombings in 2019, and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Russia-Ukraine war. Therefore, several HEIs such as University of Peradeniya, the largest state run university, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo, and many more have been shut down. While analysts comment the need to shift to online education to maintain the performance of HEIs, school administrators cite that the government power cuts has influenced the online education approach. The situation seems to be constant as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe mentioned a possible economic fall to the very bottom.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the economic growth has slumped from 3.8% to 3.1%. As analysts predict, this might have negative effect on HEIs since the commitment of the government toward higher education might shift to other sectors such as healthcare, business, and sectors that serves vulnerable segments in the community.