How to govern universities?

A study of proposals on the governance of public universities in Catalonia and Spain (1983-2014)

Download the report in PDF format (in Catalan)

Executive summary

Since 2000, a number of proposals to modify the government system of public universities in Spain or, more specifically, in Catalonia have been published by various individuals and institutions.
This is a matter of utmost importance in university politics, as the type of university government determines, within the limits of the regulatory framework, the objectives of the institution.
We present a comparative analysis of 42 publicly available documents. Our goal is to facilitate to whoever wants it an information as broad, comprehensive and varied as possible about the proposals for the governance of the university and the university system in Spain and Catalonia.

The main conclusions of the comparative analysis are as follows.

  • Legislative changes. After a 18-year period of stability in the government of universities (1983-2001) legislative changes in 2001 and 2007 (LOU2001 and LOM2007) changed it in several respects:
    • competences of the University Senate,
    • method of electing the rector,
    • competences and composition of the Governing Council,
    • participation in the Governing Council of members external to the university.
  • Large number of documents containing proposals concerning the government of the universities. This notwithstanding, there is a large corpus of documents that, in one way or another, deal with the government of the university system and the internal government of the universities. We have analyzed a total of 38 documents containing proposals or considerations about the government of universities and 4 laws regulating or that regulated it.
  • Lack of common diagnosis and consensus proposals. The analysis of the documents shows that there is not a common diagnosis on what aspects of the current functioning of the university system should be improved through a change in the system of government. Of course, neither there are -common proposals for changes or proposals that, at least, have generated a minimum level of consensus. By contrast, in many cases the various proposals point in opposite directions, and even disagreements arise within commissions appointed to study the issue.
  • The main objects of discussion arising from the documents analyzed are:
    • On the government or the university system. Divergent views on the role of government as guarantor of equity, on the level of autonomy of universities, and the role of companies are detected. In particular, there are opposing views on whether to create an autonomous university funding agency and about the possibility of entrusting to each university the selection of its students.
    • About the governing bodies of each university. Some documents are in favour of a single body of government (although they proposing various different forms of election and / or appointment) and others opt for two different government bodies: one internal, academic in nature (as for its functions and composition) and one external, of social character.
    • On the profile and the appointment of the rector. As for the election or appointment, there are positions in favour of attributing it to the university community and for the Board of Trustees, as well as hybrid proposals (appointment by one body and ratification by another). However, it appears that the presence of this issue in the debate is decreasing. As for the profile, some documents advocate a non-academic profile while others opt clearly for an academic one (ACU2008 , CEU2013 , GRA2013). Finally, regardless of the positions on the above two points, some texts explicitly propose that the rector should be or might be external to the university.
    • On the appointment of deans and directors. There are two distinct positions: election by the (weighted) vote of the university community and appointment by the rector.
  • Methodological issues. We warn about the lack of methodological rigor in justifying some proposals of the analyzed documents.
  • Different conceptions on the role of universities. We reckon thata large partof the discrepanciesare conditioned bydifferent views ontherole of universitiesin our society.

The government of the universities is an important question for the whole society. So, and this does seem to be a consensus, the issue of governance of the university system and the internal governance of universities is in relation to the objectives and the social function of the university. Accordingly, we encourage the whole society to form their own opinion on the issue from the critical reading of the documents.

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