Australian universities face conflicting pressures from a variety of sources – students, government, business and staff. So how should they be governed to weave their way through the conflicting interests and maintain the long-term interests of the institution?
One answer comes from the US. Let the alumni run the university by controlling the University Council. The alumni of a University have a strong interest in maintaining the quality of the university. The alumni qualifications, by definition, are from the university and the value of their degrees depends on the on-going quality of the university. So letting the alumni control University Council means that the interests of the Council and the long-term interests of the university will be aligned. This will empower good vice-chancellors.
An article on this is available here. But some numbers worth noting:
Today, 19 of the top 20 American universities in US News & World Report’s much-watched rankings are controlled by alumni (defined as 50 per cent or more representation on the Board of Trustees). The only exception, the California Institute of Technology, has a board with 40 per cent alumni representation. Of the top five, three (Harvard, Yale, and Columbia) are managed entirely by alumni, and two (Princeton and Stanford) are under 90 per cent alumni control. Alumni run the show even at public institutions such as Purdue (90 per cent) and Michigan (63 per cent). On average, alumni make up 63 per cent of the boards of the top 100 US universities, both public and private.
Given that these same universities tend to be the best in the world on any rankings, something must be going right.