Mon, 22 Mar 1999

On educational management

In the article "Learning centered education -- a prerequisite?" (The Jakarta Post, March 16, 1999), Nirwan Idrus once again confidently discusses specific and general issues regarding higher education. His analysis however, advocates one particular Western educational management model for Indonesia. Given the complexity of the educational changes taking place in several Western societies, his confidence in the managerial approach is misplaced.

Idrus does not seem to understand the complexity involved in the issue. For example, he simplistically equates certain management principles with general organizational efficiency, and states that these principles can also be applied to educational institutions.

One of these principles is customer orientation whereby, according to Idrus, "the concept of customer-orientation in education is reasonably well-established". This is not so. If he examines literature on the issue he will find little consensus. Instead he will discover a general polarization which indicates that managerial-oriented vice-chancelors (or heads of higher education institutions), appropriate the language of business, while many academic staff reject the vocabulary, expressing concern about the disparate, long term implications of managerialism.

Certainly, attitudes have changed in higher education. There has been a major shift from formal teaching and learning toward one of greater flexibility in which responsibility for learning activities is taken on by students themselves. This is quite different from viewing the student as a customer.

Several other views expressed in the article are highly problematic. However, for the sake of brevity I will mention only one. Idrus states that "Failed organizations are those that fail to learn". Idrus argues that the reasons for failure are "complacency, bureaucratic sluggishness and lack of long-term objectives".

Putting to one side here his anthropomorphic representation of an abstract organization, he must be aware that unfair competition, deceit, business skullduggery and monopolist practices are also major reasons for "failures".

If Idrus can somehow suspend the engineering and production line theories, he may be able to make a useful contribution to the general debate on higher education and change.


Sanur, Bali