Making the right choices
Decision-making in educational institutions in the perspective of Bangladesh
by Nadim Jahangir
BANGLADESH has a large network of universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning at both government and private sectors. These institutions are catering to the education of millions of students and trainees, thousands of professionals and other functionaries at various levels in different sectors of the country’s national economy and polity. Fulfilment of the nation’s dream to win destiny largely depends on her ability as well as sincere efforts to develop these institutions, which constitute the most important element in the contemporary and emerging national system, as centres of excellence; mould them into effective instruments of producing quality scientists, technologists, agronomists, doctors, teachers, managers, administrators, economists, statisticians and various other experts that the society needs; and give these cadres a sense of purpose and social commitment corresponding to national aspirations. Decision-making in the governance and development of these institutions is of crucial importance in this context.
Educational system and decision-making in Bangladesh
THE educational system in Bangladesh is three-tiered and highly subsidised. The government of Bangladesh operates many schools in the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. It has also subsidised parts of the funding for many private schools. In the tertiary education sector, the government also funds more than 15 state universities through the University Grants Commission. Three educational systems in Bangladesh are general, madrassah and technical-vocational. Other systems include a professional education system. Each of these three main systems is divided into four levels:
Primary level (years 1 to 5)
Secondary level (years 6 to 10)
Higher Secondary level (years 11 to 12)
Tertiary education in Bangladesh takes place at 34 government and 54 private universities. Students can choose to further studies in engineering, technology, agriculture and medicine at a variety of universities and colleges. At all levels of schooling students can choose to receive their education in English or Bengali. Private schools tend to make use of English-based media while government sponsored school use Bengali.
Cadet colleges are important in the education system of Bangladesh. A cadet college is a special type of school-cum-college established in East Pakistan on a model of English public schools. Military education is compulsory at Cadet College. The then government of Pakistan established the first residential cadet college in the Punjab in 1954. Faujdarhat Cadet College was the first cadet college in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), established in 1958 over an area of 185 acres of land at Faujdarhat in the district of Chittagong. At present there are 12 Cadet Colleges in Bangladesh.
The madrassah education system focuses on religious education, teaching all the basics of education in a religious environment. Islamic teachings are compulsory. Religious studies are thought in Arabic and the children also usually serve the related mosques. Students also study some or all of the courses from the general education system. Madrassahs take in many homeless children and provide them with food, shelter and education, e.g. Jamia Tawakkulia Renga Madrassah in Sylhet.
The technical and vocational education system provides courses related to various applied and practical areas of science, technology and engineering or focuses on a specific specialised area.
Tertiary education in madrassah education system: In the Madrassah Education System, after passing ‘Dakhil’ (10th grade) and ‘Alim” (12th Grade), a student can enroll in for 3 years long study, for obtaining ‘Fazil’ level (14th Grade), as well as they can go for further general education like earning all other university degrees. And after passing successfully, they can further enroll into another 2 years long study system to obtain ‘Kamil’ level (16th Grade) degree.
Tertiary education in technical education system: In the technical education system, after obtaining diploma-in-engineering degree (four-year long curriculum), students can further pursue their educational career for obtaining a bachelor’s degree from engineering and technology universities, while they offer two and a half to three year long courses for students with a diploma-in-engineering degree, to obtain a bachelor’s degree (undergraduate degree: 16th Grade) in engineering. Then they can enrol into post-graduate studies.
Regarding management of education: The primary and secondary levels of education are controlled by six general education boards, with each covering a region. The boards’ headquarters are located in Barisal, Comilla, Chittagong, Dhaka, Jessore, Rajshahi and Sylhet. In addition, the Madrassah Education Board covers religious education in government-registered madrassahs, and the Technical Education Board controls technical and vocational training in the secondary level. Six region-based Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education are responsible for conducting two public examinations, SSC and HSC, in addition to granting recognition to non-government secondary schools. At the school level, in the case of non-government secondary schools, school management committees, and at the intermediate college level, in the case of non-government colleges, governing boards, formed as per government directives, are responsible for mobilising resources, approving budgets, controlling expenditures, appointing and disciplining staff. While teachers of non-government secondary schools are recruited by school management committees concerned observing relevant government rules, teachers of government secondary schools are recruited centrally though a competitive examination. In government secondary schools, there is not an SMC. The headmaster is solely responsible for running the school and is supervised by the deputy director of the respective zone. Parent teachers associations, however, exist to ensure a better teaching and learning environment. In all these situations, decision-making procedures are very important. At the tertiary level, universities are regulated by the University Grant Commission. The colleges providing tertiary education are under the National University of Bangladesh. Each of the medical colleges is affiliated to a public university. Universities in Bangladesh are autonomous bodies administered by statutory bodies such as Syndicate, Senate, Academic Council, etc. in accordance with the provisions laid down in their respective acts. A good many private universities and private medical colleges have also enriched our education system where decision-making is very important. In these institutions students need to pay fees at a very high rate but they are here entitled to a lot of modern educational facilities. Seminars, symposiums and workshops have become a regular feature of education in these institutions.
The educational institutions, barring a few honourable exceptions, have become virtual battle fields, in which political and other sections backed by teachers and other staff, aided by political parties, often fight pitched battles for power and supremacy. Some vice-chancellors and registrars/deputy registrars/assistant registrars spend their entire term of office behind barricades, and sometimes they find no alternative to signing official papers from their houses. The achievement of a university is judged not on the basis of quality of its research or the competence of its students but by its adherence to the schedule of examinations and the prevention of faced closures. The statement ‘Challenge of education: A Policy Perspective’ refers to the sad state of affairs prevalent in almost all the government academic institutions in the country. The functioning of these institutions gets paralysed by the frequent strikes and violence in the campus leading to serious confrontations between different students’ fronts as well as with the authorities in which basic issues get blurred and merits of the decisions are obscured.
The virtual collapse of the educational system; changing values of life of the students and the teaching communities in particular and society at large; various socio-economic, political and other forces and influences acting upon the educational system have made decision-making in the management of academic institutions a very difficult and challenging job. So, the concerned administrators
need to be very careful and judicious while making decisions to run the administration of educational institutions in Bangladesh. Decisions are required to be make keeping in view the interest of the students and the nation at large and with this end in view, the situation in the universities need to be tranquil.
Decision-making and the steps in it
VARIOUS definitions of the term ‘decision’ focus on some of its important features, namely, judgment, self conscious and deliberative choice or selection of an alternative; problem solving; and achievement of goals and objectives. In simple words, one may treat the term ‘decision’ as the best course of action chosen by an administrator from among several alternatives as the most effective means at his/her disposal for solving problem and achieving goals. Sound decisions are characterised by judicious, purposive and rational behaviour.
Steps in decision-making
WHILE taking a decision, measures need to be taken in a logical or step-by-step sequence. The process begins with problem definition and ends with the implementation of the decision. There is one factor that militates against a careful step-by-step approach to decision-making — there is often not enough time to gather all the important and relevant information and carry out a thorough evaluation of choices. Although there often seems to be insufficient ‘thinking time’ yet such an approach to the extent feasible would substantially enhance the quality of decisions taken and their effective implementation. Rational thinking and judgement goes a long way in developing a clean line of action. Each step in the sequence will now be discussed in some detail.
PROBLEM identification and enunciation is the first and foremost step in decision-making. Analysing is basic to problem solving. When approached with a problem, a reputed Indian philosopher, Professor J Krishnamurthy cryptically replied: ‘the answer is in the problem’. His answer only highlighted the need for a clear understanding of the problem, its correct analysis and definition for right solution. Analysis does not imply tearing things to bits, like a child dismantling a toy, but establishing the relations of the parts to each other and to the whole.
Finding the true cause or causes of the problem and identifying the issues at stake upon which a decision must rest. Problem analysis will also help the administrator to examine the various elements of the problem with clarity. Holistic view and systems approach are, however, essential for correct definition of the problem and its right solution. Elaborating on the holistic view, John Adair observes that the holistic mind ‘is not eager to take things to bits at first glance. Rather it waits until it sees the pattern, the whole in relation to the parts, hence a certain reluctance to dismember. If a nasty schoolboy pulls the legs and wings off a fly, he is left with a dead fly; the parts are there but the whole is gone.’ So, the systems approach with its emphasis on close relationship of various inter-acting sub-systems and systems emphasizes investigation of the problem in a large context.
Today, and increasingly in future, educational administrators must be able to see the problems of academic institutions from a holistic view and adopt a systems approach to respond to them in the larger context of the interacting sub-systems within the educational system as well as in relation to total socio-economic-political system. It would be fallacious to take a narrow view of the common problems, interpreting them in a single disciplinary or functional way. The problems cannot be solved and functioning of academic institutions cannot be radically improved unless a new work ethic is created in which students study, teachers teach, workers work and administrators manage and critical changes in the system itself are made taking a holistic view and systems approach.
Defining the problem is not an easy task. Problems seldom present themselves as cases on which decisions can be taken. Quite often remedies are addressed to what is merely a symptom rather than the problem itself. The problem, which is perceived as students’ indiscipline may really be a problem of student frustration due to the authority’s apathy towards their genuine demands, manifesting itself in defiance and confrontation. Again what is perceived as a problem of declining student interest in studies may in reality be a problem of poor quality courses offered with little relevance to real life situation or a substandard level of teaching, which de-motivates the students from learning. Similarly, where a problem is perceived as a clash of personalities between the Head of Institutions and his/her pro-vice-chancellor/joint director/executive director, deans or heads of the departments etc, the real problem may well be poor organisational structure and management practices which do not give them functional freedom essential for innovation and creativity. A number of examples could be cited to illustrate how perfunctory assessment of problems may elude their correct definition. An in-depth analysis, holistic insight and systems approach would, therefore, seem necessary for correct definition of the problem.
Institutional goals and objectives are critical for problem identification. Problems are seen as failure to achieve institutional goals and objectives including factors that come in the way of their accomplishment. With reference to universities, there are problems to the extent universities fail in their roles of teaching research, extension, acculturating and manpower development, and above all promoting international understanding to work for a genuine world society. Similarly, the goals and objectives for which Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Chittagong University Engineering and Technology, Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology, Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka, Independent University of Bangladesh, North South University, BRAC University, East-West University, Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, Barisal University, Khulna University and other universities and institutions have been established are critical for problem identification in the decision-making processes in the management of these institutions. A proper understanding of the background and the setting in which decision-making takes place is necessary as decisions cannot be made in vacuum. For this, one should develop proper problem sensitivity
Specified operational goals, norms or targets serve as automatic problem signals to different levels of management in the sense that they clearly specify what is expected of them. Schedule of completing admissions, starting academic sessions, completing courses, internal assessment, annual and supplementary examinations and declaring results; norms of class size, minimum classroom, library, laboratory and other facilities; minimum number of working days in a semester, minimum time every teacher should spend in the institutions; number of tutorials and seminars; quantum of academic and para-academic work for teachers teaching in under-graduate and post-graduate courses and for as many aspects of institution’s operations for which measurable standards, schedules or norms can be fixed, serve as problem signals. Under the technique of management by exception, when there is a deviation (or exception) from the established standard, norm or schedule, there is a problem signal for immediate attention calling for effective intervention by the head of the institution or other appropriate level. If the problem signals are ignored or not taken seriously, the problem may assume critical dimensions and develop into crisis leading to head-on confrontation.
Getting the facts and analysing them correctly are necessary for problem appreciation and right solutions. Facts are incontestable and irrefutable. A thorough collection of facts, therefore, is very essential for decision-making. It is said that a good decision is 90 per cent information and 10 per cent inspiration. However, care must be taken that pursuit of facts does not lead to delay in taking a timely decision. Information overload also must be avoided, which may prove detrimental to decision quality by forcing the decision-maker to spend time for organising the information instead of solving the problem. One should also be able to dismiss the merely interesting but irrelevant data and distinguish between valid and misleading information. Further getting the information is only part of the job, using the information as a means to test the validity of the whole approach is equally important.
In addition to getting the facts, one will do well also to think of intangible factors. If a parent, teacher, student or karamachari comes and shouts at the head of the institution, one should not only get the facts about their cases, but should not only get the facts about their cases, but should also go deep into their problems. In all probability, these persons may merely be acting as mouthpiece — the medium through which someone else is shouting to settle scores on some other account. It is, therefore, necessary to read between the lines, to know the hidden agenda, the real motives behind an issue rather than merely struggling with surface issues.
A proper understanding of the background and the setting in which decision-making takes place is necessary as decisions cannot be made in vacuum. For this, one should develop proper problem sensitivity. Questioning in particular and observing in general the events and persons carefully and intelligently coordinating responses to problems seem to be basic to the development of better problem sensitivity and for providing important clues to problem identification.
A questioning frame of mind is essential to analyse and synthesise the whole situation. Some of the questions need to aim at increasing one’s awareness of his surroundings — the which, the what and how of things. Other questions concern the time and location of various events — the when and where of things. The questions concerning the who things- the group dynamics, the personalities involved and the question of healthy scepticism — the why of things should also guide one’s development of problem sensitivity. A convenient check list of these important types of questions to be raised is provided by Rudyard Kipling’s nursery rhyme:
I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names are What and Why
and When and How and Where and Who.
These questions are the mental tools and spanners to strip the matter down to the bare bone. Quite often attempts are made to find solutions without analyzing and defining the problems correctly. Right questions or pertinent issues are not raised and yet right answers or solutions are sought. To quote Peter Drucker, ‘there are few things as useless—if not as dangerous as the right answer to wrong questions.’ Decision-making in such cases becomes an exercise in futility. Much worse, many a time, with a view to side-track or divert the real issues due to vested interests or other reasons, the problems are analysed wrongly and wrong solutions are suggested. Such a lack of professional integrity and honesty of purpose degenerate decision-making into a farce which eventually brings grief to the decision-maker and the institution.
If a problem is not ascertained correctly, the decision instead of solving the problem may complicate the situation and make the functioning more difficult. The disastrous effects of wrong decisions in the field of education are sure to endanger the health of the nation. A problem is half solved, if defined properly. Utmost care needs to be taken to get rid of disastrous effects of the wrong decision-making process.
Search for alternatives
AFTER having defined the problem, the next step is to search for alternative solutions. To ensure selection of the best possible solution, it should be an unalterable rule to develop several viable alternatives for every problem.
One has to train, discipline and develop mind’s vision to arrive at solutions. To quote Peter Drucker again, ‘A blind man, to be sure, cannot learn to see. But it is amazing how much a person with normal eyesight does not see, and how much he can perceive through systematic training of the vision. Similarly, minds vision can be trained, disciplined and developed. And the method for this is the systematic search for and development of solutions to the problems.’
A major test of quality of a decision-maker is his ability to discover the full range of viable alternatives available in a particular situation, with various permutations and combinations and from amongst them to select the ideal solution which will yield the most satisfactory result(s). Inability to gauge the existence of the available alternatives is a mark of administrative inefficiency and lethargy.
ONCE the problem has been defined and the relevant alternatives found, the next step is to evaluate the alternatives.
Operations research, statistical analysis and computer programming etc. are important tools to help in decision-making and have imparted a scientific aura to the process of choice by presenting management with an array of alternative solutions to a given problem, arrange them in order of their desirability and probability of success. In essence, these are tools of information and information processing and enable decisions with a high degree of rationality. While many aspects can be easily quantified with considerable accuracy, there remain many important factors that are intangible or qualitative and must be evaluated on the basis of executive judgement and deliberations.
Bases of decision-making
TO QUOTE Chester Barnard: ‘The fine art of executive decision consists in not deciding questions that are not now pertinent, in not deciding prematurely, in not making decisions that cannot be made effective and in not making decisions that others should make.’ These observations provide a good insight into some of the operational parameters of decision-making. The bases of decision-making, however, comprise a number of basic and other operational parameters for evaluating alternatives and making decisions judiciously in the interest of the educational institutions of our nation.
Decision-making: its basic parameters
THE basic parameters of decision-making are as follows:
Philosophy: The philosophy may consist of doctrine(s) and set of values cherished by a nation. The basic philosophy for the development of National System of Bangladesh Education is derived from the preamble to the Bangladesh Constitution together with the guiding Principles of State Policy. The basic principles of equity and quality embodied in the constitution for the development of the educational system imply that all students have access to education of a comparable quality, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex. It calls upon promotion of certain national, universal and eternal values such as Bangladesh’s common cultural heritage, socialism, secularism, democracy, equality of sexes, removal of social barriers, inculcation of scientific temper, protection of the environment etc. These principles and values serve as a perceptual screen for the educational administrators for evaluating the possible alternatives for making decisions in managing and developing the academic institutions.
Direction: The direction is the long-term perspective towards stated objectives. The National Policy on Education provided important directions for the development of education system. Where Considerable expansion in educational facilities was achieved but desired improvements in educational system did not take place. The formulation of a New Education Policy became imperative to provide new directions to meet the emerging challenges and social needs.
The National Policy on Education provides a new perspective for radical reorganization of content and process of education at all levels for the development of a National System of Education. It inter alia calls upon steps to facilitate inter-regional mobility in higher education in general and technical education in particular by providing equal access to every Bangladeshi person of requisite merit, regardless of his/her origin. In the context of unprecedented explosion of knowledge, it calls upon higher education to become ever more dynamic constantly entering uncharted areas. Some of the important directions given in the field of higher education include:
Consolidation of, and expansion of facilities in existing institutions;
Protecting the system from degradation;
Development of autonomous college in large number until the affiliating system is replaced by a free and more creative association of universities with colleges;
Creation of autonomous departments within universities on a selective basis;
Redesigning of courses and programs to meet the demands of specialisation;
Increasing flexibility in combination of courses;
Provision of minimum facilities and regulation of admissions according to capacity;
The transformation of teaching methods;
Teacher orientation and evaluation; and
Enhanced support for research in universities and ensuring its high quality.
Plan: A policy takes concrete shape only with the process of implementation. A plan is a blueprint of the programs, strategies, methodology, resources and time frame etc. to achieve the desired objectives. Whereas the program of action drawn by the Government of Bangladesh is a projection of directions with varying degrees of detail by providing an indication of the nature of action which will be needed and broad strategies to be followed in implementation of the National policy on Education, five year and yearly plans outline specific programs and strategies, funding and time frame etc. Within the above broad framework, the universities and other institutions of higher learning will have their own institutional plans for consolidation and expansion of facilities, creation of autonomous departments and development of autonomous colleges etc.
Personal and institutional values: Further, the personal values of the decision-maker and the values of the institution of which he is a part, influence the comparison and evaluation of alternatives by providing him with a set of guidelines to steer through the entire decision-making process. Harrison observes that all decisions are imbued with personal and organizational values. Value judgments arising out of personal value system of the decision-maker and conditioned by the values implicit in the organizational objectives are the rule rather than exception in the process of choice (1995). The fact and value dichotomy, with too much emphasis on facts to the exclusion of values may, therefore, come in the way of proper evaluation of an alternative and arriving at right decisions for our student’s community.
Operational parameters of
EDUCATIONAL institutions need to give much importance to operational parameters while making decisions.
Availability of resources: Availability of resources in terms of 4 Ms–Men, Material, Machines, and Money, is an important parameter to decision-making. Best decisions fail due to lack of resources such as trained personnel, adequate funds, space, machines and so on. The most important resource limitation is, however, human beings whose vision, competencies, skills and understanding determine what they can and cannot do. Efforts should, therefore, be made to raise the competencies of the people who have to carry out a program or appoint new personnel with requisite ability.
Right priorities: Fixing right priorities is of crucial importance in the process of decision-making. Faced with the constraints of resources, priorities will have to be decided between competing demands so that high priority programs are taken up first. To illustrate, according to news report, a premier central university was proposing to construct a dozen flats for aged retired teachers at a cost of about TK. 360.00 lakhs. As per reports, only about 15% of 6,000 teachers in the university had official accommodation. Whereas the proposal to build flats for retired University teachers would appear to be unexceptionable on the surface level, question of right priority needs to be considered as to whether the university should first address itself to the problem of provision of accommodation to thousands of in-service or should take up construction of houses for retired teachers. A number of examples could be citied to illustrate the issue. Since wrong priorities in decision-making may lead to serious distortions and other undesirable consequences, having right priorities is highly important in the whole process of decision-making.
Economy: Economy in terms of money is necessary for efficient utilization of funds within the limited financial resources. In the context of academic institutions, where human resource is the single most important resource both qualitatively and quantitatively, far more important is, however, the economy of effort and time for optimizing the full potential of available human resources. On one hand, a number of heads of academic institutions are often seen complaining of shortage of time and stresses and strains due to mounting pressure of work and intricacies of the problems at hand. On the other hand, they regularly involve themselves in long sessions of discussions on non-issues, routine matters or low priority items, more with a view
to establishing their credentials as genuine academicians and projecting their image of democratic and open-minded administrators than for developing clear thinking, new ideas and strategies or taking decisions. Such marathon sessions of inconclusive and fruitless exchange of so-called intellectual ideas which get degenerated are counterproductive. It leaves little time for serious thinking and important tasks of management get neglected as a result.
Risk: Since future cannot be forecast, there is always an element of risk associated with a decision. The decision-maker must, therefore, consider all outcomes and evaluate the odds associated with an alternative. Intelligent risk taking is not, however, synonymous with bravado or fool hardiness. Question of responsibility and accountability should be taken into consideration. The most ideal solution may have very high risks associated with it. If high risks cannot be taken or managed, one may have to go in for solutions which may not be the best but have lower risks associated with them.
Rationality: Decisions are to be made on the basis of facts and on rational consideration. One must have valid reason for deciding on a particular course of action as an optimum choice and must be able to justify a decision. They must stand the test of logic.
Functional freedom: Functional freedom is essential for effective decision-making. Since responsibility and authority are two faces of the same coin and cannot be divorced from each other, responsibility without authority or vice versa are meaningless in the whole process of decision-making. The Vice-Chancellors or Directors/Deans cannot be made accountable unless they can operate with full measure of authority and freedom,—of course, within the parameters of autonomy enjoyed by their universities and institutions. In this context, the following observations in regard to “Challenge of Education–A Policy Perspective’’ are quite revealing. “In a formal sense, universities are organized around the office of the Vice-Chancellor. He presides over all the Committees and Councils and is armed with unlimited emergency powers. In reality, however, the Vice-Chancellor has to function on the basis of a fast dwindling prestige, since he/she is constantly at the doorstep of government officials for money to keep the university going…” Financial dependence of the universities and other academic institutions on government funds seriously compromises with their functional autonomy and decision-making. Further, the lure of office keeps a number of Vice-Chancellors and other Heads of academic institutions driving to the Ministries’ and Ministers’ bungalows in pursuit of extension (of their terms) rather than for the serious pursuit of excellence in their institutions. In this process, independence in decision-making in their autonomous functioning gets further diluted.
The erosion of functional freedom percolates down the line from the Vice-Chancellor or Directors/Deans to Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Registrars, Heads of Departments, Principals, Vice-Principals and so on. Whereas the Vice-Chancellors and Directors/Deans, who have independent roles in the decision-making of their institutions as chief executives, look to the government and political bosses for decision in the governance of their institutions, the functionaries at other levels of decision-making in these institutions seek directions from their next higher authority or the chief executives who tend to centralize all powers in their own hands. Unless the chief executives at all levels of decision-making are vested with adequate powers and encouraged to take decisions in their areas of responsibility, the whole process of decision-making gets distorted. The chief executives and other senior level functionaries find themselves performing petty and routine functions thereby neglecting their own areas of higher responsibilities.
A DECISION must be legitimate. Legitimacy can be judged from the following angles:
Conformity to rules: Conformity to rules and regulations does not imply their rigid and unimaginative enforcement causing bottlenecks and delays in which case procedures become more important than persons or situations and the objectives get submerged. Conformity to rules and regulations connotes a fair and uniform application. It is a common practice to interpret rules differently for different persons depending on their status, linkages and influence. “Show me the persons and I will show you the rule” is the dictum followed in most of the offices. Not only are the rules interpreted differently for different persons, but a number of cases are reported from various universities and institutes of national importance where rules have been modified to enable sons, daughters and other close relatives of ministers and other influential persons to sit for the examinations or get admissions in professional course.
Conformity to precedent: The decision must be consistent in the sense that it conforms not only to rules but also to precedent, both in terms of the nature of facility given or withdrawn or in terms of generosity or severity. For example, if in a nine-months Diploma Program abroad consisting of two phases—(i) three months academic preparation in one’s own country for collection of data and writing country paper etc.; and (ii) six months intensive curriculum work abroad—if three months special leave required to be sanctioned for academic preparation in one’s own country is not granted to a teacher—a precedent is established which should be followed in all the future cases. If in a subsequent year, a deviation from the above precedent is sought to be made and a teacher is allowed three months special leave which was not granted in earlier years, it may not be considered to be legitimate and would seem to be influenced by other considerations.
Conformity to norms: Decision must conform to the norms with regard to allocation of time-table, nomination to courses, grant of sabbatical study and academic leave, use of staff cars, provision of residential accommodation and telephones, invitation to lunches and dinners etc. Deviation from the established norms in favour or against would amount to favouritism or victimisation.
Conformity to conventions: The United Kingdom does not have any written constitution, yet its strong conventions sustain the best democracy in the world. In making decisions, healthy conventions established in the functioning of the institutions must be honoured.
Student interest: Student is the centrepiece of the entire educational system. Larger interest of the students should, therefore, serve as a touchstone while taking any decision. If a decision is in the interest of students, it is a good decision. If it goes against their interest, it is a bad decision. Schools, colleges and universities have not been established to provide employment to teachers, principals and other educational functionaries, but to impart education and services to the student community. Unfortunately, the main purpose of these noble institutions has been lost. The student has been relegated to the background. Educational institutions today are functioning like big factories churning out mass production of goods, year after year, with little attention to individual student care.
Environmental dimensions: Universities and other academic institutions do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger socio-economic system. Apart from the forces of economics, society and politics, acting upon the educational system, the decision-maker must also take into account technology with its emphasis on innovations and concomitant need of the institutions to visualize and adapt to inevitable changes. These four principal exogenous forces acting separately and together and interacting regularly with the formal organization create a dynamic environmental texture within which the institutions must operate and the rational decision-maker must pursue optional choices bounded by imperfect information, time and resource constraints and his/her own cognitive limitations.
Timing: Time sense is very important but it is extremely difficult to systematize decisions concerning timings as they depend more on perceptions than any scientific analysis. One should look at the alternatives from the angles of expediency and acceptability as they affect the people and should help them in achieving their objectives and perform more effectively. A very ideal decision in an explosive situation surcharged with violence or strike or other unfavourable factors might not be accepted. In such situations, the decision-maker would do well to defer making a decision until more favourable circumstances arise. Therefore right decision at the right time is advocated.
Biases: What are sometimes considered to be facts are to a certain extent coloured by subjectivity. A decision in order to be fair or objective should not be influenced either by positive bias leading to favouritism, nepotism and corruption or by negative bias leading to victimization or vindictive action.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the decision-maker to completely free himself from the element of subjectivity in getting the facts, evaluating them and relating them in their proper perspective. Biases become part of thinking and behaviour, seriously affecting the judgment and quality of decisions. Recognising this weakness, every effort should be made to make decisions on a fair and objective basis. One must, therefore, guard against one’s own biases, which deflect from taking a fair and objective view of the whole situation thereby vitiating the quality of decisions taken. Heads of institutions are not paragons of genius. They may also commit mistakes. Therefore, bona fide errors of judgment in the process of decision-making are forgiven. However, judgment based on biases will not be in consonance with high principles of public administration and dignity of the offices held by them.
Apart from various factors like personality and socio-economic characteristics of the decision-makers, populist postures and external interference etc., two important sources of biases in the decision-making in academic institutions arise from—rise of inner circles and internal politics. Whereas a separate detailed discussion would appear to be necessary to have a proper insight into their genesis, nature and dimensions, it may be worthwhile here to touch upon the above two sources of biases which are directly related to the roles of Heads and the internal working of the institutions.
Rise of inner circles: In most of the academic institutions, inner circles, also referred to as kitchen cabinet, clique, cabal, caucus and mafia etc. are formed, comprising advisers nick-named as yesmen, chamchas, kakas, stooges, gangsters are formed around heads of institutions, who influence decision-making. They become the conscience keepers of the Head and act as his/her ears and eyes to spy on others. They play the Manthara’s role (Evil-designer’s role) in Ramayana by creating illusory fears or doubts in the mind of the Head with regard to the evil designs of others. Through sycophancy, they make themselves indispensable to the chief. Once they gain his/her confidence and know his/her weakness, they eventually undermine his/her position by injecting their own biases and prejudices in his/her decision-making. They entrench themselves as extra-constitutional centers of powers and become a law unto themselves rendering formal functional authorities ineffective. Counter groups arising as a reaction indulge in dirty fights and a few surviving independent-minded persons become mute witnesses and victims to the whole sordid state of affairs. When this happens, the Heads of institutions get alienated from other staff members, lose respect and reduce themselves to the position of group or gang heads rather than institutional heads. It is a pity to watch well meaning and academically sound people losing their sense of values and perspectives, and mortgaging their discretion and judgment to sycophants. They become prisoners of the unhealthy culture, which they themselves have
created. Their decision-making capacity is seriously vitiated which affects the decision-making at all other levels.
Sometimes, an argument is advanced in favour of kitchen cabinet on the grounds that the Institutional Head needs to help him/her in successful management. But it is often forgotten that the rise of inner circles or kitchen cabinets is the very negation of the concept of team-building in the institutions, which by creating vested interests, mutual distrust, bitterness and dissensions, vitiate the whole process of decision-making and damage the institutional fabric in the long run.
Internal politics: Another serious bias in the process of decision-making arises due to the play of internal politics in academic institutions. Many Institutional Heads, probably, in order to secure their own position, indulge in the game of divide and rule and selective discrimination, instead of building teams, which they profess day in and day-out for public consumption. In the process, various centres of power are created within the institution in which members of competing groups try to excel each other in showing their loyalty to the head to gain his/her favour. The head tries to maintain a delicate balance of power by playing his card deftly by seeming to align with one group or the other to strengthen his/her own position. Standards and norms are seldom followed and decisions are taken not on merit, but on selective discrimination, either in favour or against, with a view to creating personal loyalties. Partisan interests and group politics over-ride the institutional interests. Elements of natural justice and fair play give way to manipulations, manoeuvring and machinations in such situations. Administration needs to take right decision at the right time. Decisions must not be influenced by positive bias leading to favouritism, nepotism and corruption. Decisions have to be made keeping in mind the noble missing of our educational institutions.
Make the choice
THE decision itself is the culmination of the process of defining the problem, developing alternatives and their evaluation. After evaluation of the various alternatives on an objective basis, one has to make the choice and select the ideal solution, which will yield most satisfactory result. However, as it so frequently happens in real life situations, due to admixture of various factors like power politics, influence of other people, environmental dimensions etc., it may not always be possible to select and implement the ideal or optimum solution. One can still hope to develop a clean line of action for reaching a satisfactory decision. Even in the most discouraging situations there are several choices. None may be desirable, but one still has the choice to select the alternative which will be least unsatisfactory. Moreover, if the undesirable consequences are so overwhelming that they will practically immobilize the administrator, he has always one solution — taking no action at all. Taking no action, however, is as much a decision as the decision to take a specific action. The consequences of taking no action should, therefore, be fully visualised.
It is tougher to make decisions than not to make decisions. Anyone who takes hard decisions has to pay the price. Due to stress, or lack of clear thinking and ability to take decisions, or for other extraneous reasons, some administrators become indecisive and vacillating. Rather than taking a decision, they put off the evil moment until overtaken by events. Such indecision leads to frustration and sluggish growth process. It poisons the work ethos causing incalculable damage to the institutional fabric.
Implement the decision
ONCE a decision is made, action must be taken for its implementation as planned. Decisions without implementation remain on the ideological level without any result. There is, therefore, nothing as useless as the right answer that disappears in the filing cabinet or the right solution that is quietly sabotaged by the people who have to make it effective.
Human beings act as the crucial factor in the implementation phase. To quote Elbing:
Man, as the vehicle through which decisions are implemented, reacts not only to the quality of the decision but to the total socio-technical environment associated with the decision. He cannot be manipulated in the same sense that other resources can be. Therefore, the manager’s job is not limited to the exercise of knowledge and skill in choosing desirable solutions: it also includes the knowledge and skill required to transform those solutions into the dynamics of behavior in a particular organizational social system.
It is, therefore, far more important and difficult to make effective the course of action decided upon.
Time spent on ‘selling’ solutions by preparing the organization and affected groups or individuals through communication and enlistment of personal commitments is not a waste, if it smoothens the process of implementation by creating better understanding and acceptability. Implementation would, however, become far more effective, if decision becomes “our” decision, with the people who have to convert it into action. For this, they should be involved responsibly in the work of developing alternatives and making decisions.
The consequences of one’s decision should be carefully watched through a system of follow up. If the consequences run contrary to the expectations of the decision-maker, it would be only logical to review or even reverse the decision on the basis of feedback. Such flexibility in approach will reduce the chances of becoming irrationally overcommitted to a course of action.
Everyday the administration of educational institutions incorporates numerous decisions that appear dull, routine and inconsequential. Depending upon their soundness or otherwise they help in the creation of working ethos conducive to attaining high academic standards or result in fouling the academic atmosphere and erosion of values. This part, policy, strategic and innovative decisions taken in the long course determine whether these institutions will flourish into centres of excellence and dynamic instruments of manpower development or degenerate into platforms of political rivalries, aggrandisement of vested interests, manoeuvring and manipulations bereft of serious academic pursuits and values. Any talk of making the academic institutions work, not to speak of developing them as centres of excellence, is futile unless decisions are made by vice-chancellors, directors/deans/heads and principals who head these institutions and other educational administrators in the hierarchy, with utmost intellectual rigor, soundness of purpose and professional integrity.
SCHOOLS, colleges and universities constantly strive to achieve their institutional missions in the face of increasing competition and limited resources. They make crucial short-and-long term decisions as they do so, however critical questions remain: (i) do institutions have necessary facts to make well-informed decisions? (ii) are some decisions being made based on institution because relevant data is unavailable? (iii) if adequate data and analysis capabilities are not available to inform decision-making, what risk does the institution assume? Addressing these questions is important for improving decision-making across the institution.
The decision–making environment in higher education is very complex. Multiple entities and stakeholders need reliable access to specific information in order to make sound decisions. Therefore, improving decision-making capabilities means assessing and overcoming these challenges.
Higher education institutions are inundated with demands for information needed to support administrative, academic, planning, regulatory, legislative, research and optimal interests. Varying constituents at all levels require dynamic views of information and customized analysis capabilities. Requests for more on-demand, comprehensive capabilities steadily increase as constituents strive to make informed strategic and day-to-day decisions.
It is high time for Bangladesh to evolve common educational forums and collaborative strategies to deal with the institution. Higher education is of utmost significance for modernization of an economy and creation of a knowledge-based society. Bangladesh, therefore, must assess the progress of higher education, both in quantity and quality, and take corrective measures.
Improvement in the quality education is a very important aspect requiring urgent attention. Unconditional cooperation in curriculum development, preparation of instructional material, implementation of innovative practices, use of new technologies, exchange of experts, and promotion of collaborative research are the needs of the hour. For improving quality, universities in Bangladesh need to learn how to utilize available resources in a more effective manner by evolving transparent systems of recruitment and promotion of teachers, introducing interactive teaching methods, and reducing political activities on the campuses.
The government of Bangladesh has encouraged the private sector to establish and manage higher education institutions. The impact of higher education in Bangladesh is positive, because private universities generally pay higher salaries to teachers, offer a good curriculum, and provide high-quality libraries and research facilities. Thus, privatization tends to respond to the popular demand for modern, job-oriented, and practical training in technology and business. Privatization of higher education is a relatively new phenomenon and is due to both a social need and a financial compulsion. But most private universities and colleges are providing professional education and are functioning on commercial lines. Private universities and colleges are therefore required to be kept under strict vigilance to guard against excessive profiteering and be subjected to stringent administrative and financial regulations. It is worth noting that in spite of very costly education in private universities, many bright students opt for studying here in these institutions in the private sector. These students, fortunately for us, are found to have requisite research aptitude and motivation. A thoughtful debate towards a collaborative regional strategy needs to be planned in this regard. It is high time for Bangladesh to evolve common educational forums and collaborative strategies to deal with the situation. Higher education institutions can dramatically improve decision-making capabilities by implementing successful data warehousing initiatives that address identifiable challenges, set attainable goals and follow the framework of guiding principles and program lifecycle management. Decisions have to be rightly made for assessing higher education systems of Bangladesh in terms of structure, access, quality, equity, resources and contribution of both private and public enterprises. Such an assessment is quite likely to help in promoting cooperation and planning better strategies.
In conclusion, political rivalries and aggrandisement of vested interests should not vitiate decision-making. Professional integrity needs to be an integral part of decision-making. Decision-making in the whole education system of Bangladesh has to be characterised by judicious, purposive and rational behaviour. Decision–makers at all levels must have autonomy to make decisions in the interest of students, university and the nation at large. Decisions are to be made with utmost intellectual rigor, soundness of purpose and professional integrity. Decisions to be made by the academic institutions of Bangladesh must help in the creation of working ethos conducive to attaining high academic standards. Decisions of the educational institutions of Bangladesh need to efficiently cater to the millions of students, trainees, thousands of professionals, and other functionaries at various levels in various sectors of the country’s national economy. Our nation’s decision policy must be worthy of winning destiny. This is possible if these integrity in the entire decision-making process.
Dr Nadim Jahangir, professor and dean, School of Business, Independent University, Bangladesh.