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Note From The Editor: Steering a Ship or Fleet

Aurora Brief Reviews No. 04 February 19 2019

February 2019

Higher Education Institutions, like other organisations, can be compared to either a ship or a fleet of ships. The ‘ship’ model applies to centralised institutions, with centralised services and clear and strict protocols for the core functions of teaching, research and outreach. The ‘fleet’ model applies to more decentralised institutions, with much more independent schools, faculties, institutes and centres. These two models are very different in how they can be steered: a captain can give direct orders, but a Commodore needs to issue instructions to the ship’s captains and respect their autonomy.

NB except in stormy weather or dangerous waters, captains should not be on the bridge issuing orders, but leave that to their chief officer while they walk leisurely over the ship to observe the state of the craft and the mood of the crew – but that is a different issue.

Back to the captain vs the Commodore: it makes a difference if the HEI leader steers directly or indirectly. So what happens when a university is centralised and decentralised at the same time? If the services are highly centralised and the core functions of teaching and research are decentralised? Does it mean that the university leaders need to act both as captain and as Commodore at the same time? Can this hybrid concept explain some of the tensions between decentralised Faculties and centralised services?

I welcome comments to these questions and will gladly publish them in my next issue of the Newsletter.

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