Collaborative governance in higher education institutions can ensure quality learning and teaching


The retention of staff, particularly young academics, women, and individuals from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, is a pressing issue in the higher education sector. These groups often face the challenge of short-term contracts and limited opportunities for securing permanent positions. The prevalence of project-based contracts and precariousness in higher education and research remains, in fact, a significant issue, negatively impacting educational quality and affecting students, institutions, and education systems.

To address this concern, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) hosted a webinar on February 12, titled "Collaborative Governance in Higher Education Institutions for Quality Learning and Teaching." This event was a part of a webinar series by the Education Leadership Network Europe, a new consortium on collaborative school leadership led by EFEE, ETUCE, ESHA, EPA, and  OBESSU. The webinar featured speakers from the European Commission, the Italian academic trade union FLC-CGIL, student unions (ESU), and educational employers from Finland.

The European Commission announced an initiative to introduce an initiative aimed at fostering attractive and sustainable academic careers, addressing the underappreciation of career development and progression in academia. The initiative seeks to bridge the esteem gap between teaching and research roles, acknowledging that poor working conditions, high pressure, and short-term contracts are major barriers to staff retention.

In Italy, despite a strong tradition of self-governance and academic freedom, austerity measures have led to significant reforms in the higher education system. These reforms have diminished the roles of social dialogue, collegiality, and professional autonomy, moving towards centralized budgeting and project-based financing, which has increased job insecurity in academia. Italian trade unions are advocating for academic freedom, institutional autonomy, collegial governance, permanent contracts, fair salaries, and recognition for technical and support staff.

The webinar highlighted the importance of democratic leadership, collegiality, and collaboration in maintaining the high regard for European higher education institutions. Concerns were raised about the shift towards corporate governance models that limit student and staff participation in decision-making processes. Emphasizing the role of student involvement in co-decision-making processes enhances their active citizenship and sense of belonging. Despite good cooperation between students, academics, and university management in many countries, such collaboration is often not institutionalized or consistent.

Finland was presented as a positive example of collaborative governance, supporting quality education through accessible higher education pathways, no tuition fees for national and EU students, and high status for teaching professions. Quality assurance in Finland is based on a culture of trust, viewed positively.

The webinar also addressed challenges such as sexual harassment and concealed violence in higher education, underlining the need for collaborative efforts to support and train those affected. The speakers and participants concurred on the importance of social dialogue and collegial governance, involving teacher trade unions and students in decision-making processes to ensure quality education. They emphasized that trust, respect, salary increases, job stability, and permanent contracts are crucial, alongside addressing gender inequalities, promoting academic freedom, and eliminating the culture of fear through collaborative educational leadership among policymakers, students, teachers, universities, and employers.