Homing in on higher edThe government is taking aim at struggling, poor-performing universities in an attempt to weed them out of the higher education community.
As part of this effort, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology disclosed the names of 30 universities that rank low when it comes to their teaching environments and overall educational quality.
The government evidently wants financial institutions to end or scale back financing to these schools for student loans and scholarships, hoping that will force the universities to shape up. But in reality it wants to accelerate the demise of weaker colleges. New students, after all, will likely avoid universities and colleges that offer limited financial benefits, leading to declining enrollment and, eventually, closure.
The plan could encounter speed bumps if these institutions protest strongly against the government’s moves. To avoid such a scenario and reform higher education in a more effective way, authorities should institutionalize a system that will help struggling universities restructure, rather than pursuing policies that force them out of existence.
Universities should first be audited and evaluated on their management. The government should then provide universities with customized guidelines and advice for improvement. Institutions with potential, therefore, could receive support in mapping out a plan, which might involve reducing student numbers or developing job-specific courses.
Colleges already struggling with financial difficulties and empty classrooms should be advised to seek mergers or close down. Additionally, a presidential advisory board, formed last year to spearhead the advancement of universities, should be expanded to oversee the restructuring process and become a permanent body.
At the same time, the government should employ both legal and systematic policies to speed up university restructuring and ensure that mergers and closures do not victimize students, lecturers and administrative staff. Under this strategy, for example, the shutdown of a university could be delayed until every current student graduates.
Students must be completely free to transfer to other schools as well.
The government should also consider subsidizing universities by creating a restructuring fund, and it should quickly change regulations to let the owners of university foundations walk away with some of their assets - or donate those assets to welfare-related institutions. Universities cannot gain a competitive edge unless the nation develops an effective restructuring program.