Elements of strategic planning for higher-ed leaders

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Elements of strategic planning for higher-ed leaders

When one asks heads of higher educational institutions what their definition of excellence is, a variety of responses is typically observed. Here are some examples from a recent workshop that I conducted:

(1) Inculcate an orientation towards life-long learning,(

2) Provide an environment conducive to good teaching and research

(3) Obtain accreditation

(4) Achieve high employability of graduates

(5)Develop high teaching standards, and

(6) Ensure teachers are well-trained through rigorous faculty development.

While each of the above responses is relevant, some are visions of excellence that the heads want their institutions to achieve with regard to students (“Inculcate an orientation towards life-long learning” and “Achieve high employability of graduates”); some address tasks at conceptual and practical levels, such as “Provide an environment conducive to good teaching and research “ (conceptual), “Develop high teaching standards” (practical) and “Obtain accreditation” (practical).

One is a statement that connects outcomes with actions, “Ensure teachers are well-trained through rigorous faculty development.” A strategic plan for higher education institutions is a useful way to organize ambitions, roles and tasks so that planners can use it as a guide to action.

The definition of each component is as follows.

Vision: Long-term results to be achieved on the target group

Mission: Long-term role to be played by the institution in order to achieve the vision

Values/Principles: Institutional beliefs that will guide actions

Policy: Medium-term results to be achieved

Strategy: A statement that is 3-5 years in scope of time and describes how the policy will be achieved by connecting outcomes, actions and resources.

Action Plan: A statement that is 1-3 years in scope of time and describes tasks that will help accomplish the strategy.

Activity: A statement that is from 2 weeks to 3 years in scope of time and describes the tasks in the Action Plans in terms of one or more of governance structures, resource

Here is an example of what the elements of a strategic plan might look like. In practice, there will be multiple items under most of the elements. issues and constraints (staffing, equipment, operating items, infrastructure, finance), processes and quality assurance.

Service: A task to accomplish activities that is detailed and measurable (not descriptive).

Measure: A quantitative or qualitative assessment of progress of action plans in terms of the services delivered.

Target: A time-line of expected progressions towards achieving measures. Gathering information and undertaking analyses of what the environment offers in terms of opportunities and challenges is important. For instance, if most students come from the local area, an assessment of what they can afford to pay will be needed in order to plan what resources to deploy. Some of the typical types of information that a planner will need relate to costs, coverage, quality and governance.

These are required to enable decisions on:

Courses of study and syllabi

Curriculum design, teaching and research

Faculty composition and selection

Admission rules

Fund mobilization (typically via tuition fees, endowments and research contracts)

Fund disposal (resource use on staffing, infrastructure and operating items)

Governance structure: Who has responsibility for different functions between trustees and employees?

Management arrangements: How is responsibility divided among employees? The last two items are worth spending adequate time on. Many strategic plans can fail because governance and management arrangements do not create the right frameworks and incentives for desired actions. For instance, suppose that the institution’s trustees decide that, due to a temporary financial crisis, a college needs to cut 10% in faculty salary expenditure next year. It can send one of the following messages to all department heads:

Each department head to cut faculty salaries by 10% for each department employee

(Message A)

Each department head to cut faculty salaries by 10% but to decide their own cuts (as long as the total is 10%)

(Message B)

Clearly, Message B (which encompasses Message A) offers the department head more flexibility. What message needs to be sent depends on the instructional and research goals of the department. A common question that may be asked in this connection is which message will succeed in achieving most of the following.

To achieve a total cut of 10%

To retain all faculty?

To retain at least the good research faculty?

To retain at least the good teaching faculty?

To maintain good relations within the department?

In most institutions in India, the board of trustees tends to exercise strong control over costs. In such an environment, Message A will almost invariably be perceived as superior to Message B on grounds of fairness. Message B is, however, better for achieving the department’s quality goal. But it should be used only if the HOD is seen as the person generally accountable for departmental quality, and who is given the authority and budgets to fulfill the quality mission.

This is the reason why paying attention to the governance and management arrangements is important for strategic planning. A strategic plan should be a time-bound document that is updated as information on task accomplishment and the environment changes.

However, because strategic planning takes up the time of institutional leadership, it can be difficult to revisit more than once a year for action plans and once every three years for strategic shifts.

About the author:

Rafiq Dossani is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation. His research interests include: higher education, technology policy, and globalisation and innovation in services supply-chains. Previously, Dossani was director of the Stanford University Center for South Asia.

Rafiq Dossani lists some takeaways from a recent workshop with heads of higher educational institutions on their definition of excellence