Governance and Communication

Even though institutions have gained autonomy, the government‘s role is still as crucial as ever in higher education. As the major financial source in most of the higher education systems reviewed government still decides who gets which funding and on which basis.

Recent developments have strengthened this approach as governments have moved from traditional directing in higher education to steering from a distance. Contracts with universities, financial accountability measures and legal frameworks are the foundation of this steering approach. Furthermore, a multiplication of intermediary bodies between government and institutions is common at the level of national higher education governance. External bodies accredit quality assurance agencies or perform audits and research councils provide higher education funding (and especially for research projects) on a competitive basis (OECD, 2008, pp. 74-75).

Resource material

Center for Higher Education and Policy Analysis. (2003).  Challenges for governance: A national report.  University of Southern California.  Retrieved from

Olson, G.  (2009). What exactly is shared governance?  The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 23, 2009.  Retrieved from

According to the Center for Higher Education and Policy Analysis (2003), Colleges and universities exist in “loosely coupled” environments. A mistaken theory is to try to tighten the loose links in communication. Instead, the CHEPA (2003) argues that administrators should accept that “institutions exist in decentralized organizations and that the faculty’s engagement with an issue may be sporadic” (p.18).  A key to effective governance is to communicate consistently with the faculty.

Communications advocates argue that the main contribution communications can make to governance reform is to influence the opinion, attitude and ultimately the behavior of key stakeholders (including leadership, bureaucrats, and citizens). This is important because all reform requires behavior change on the part of key stakeholders.  The degree of communication often depends on the role of the stakeholders in the governance process.  The following is a breakdown of some possible patterns of governance:

- Fully collaborative decision-making. This refers to a traditional approach that some might call a “collegial model” of governance. Here, the faculty and administration make decisions jointly and consensus is the goal.

- Consultative decision-making. This describes a more communicative model where the faculty’s opinion and advice is sought but where authority remains with the senior administration and the board of trustees.  Although many individuals and groups are brought into the decision making process, the model revolves around information sharing and discussion rather than joint decision-making.

- Distributed decision-making. In this model, decisions are made by discrete groups responsible for specific issues. The understanding on decision-making is that the faculty has a right to make decisions in certain areas, and the administration and board in others (The Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, 2003).

                                                            Diffusion theory

New communication initiatives have adopted a diffusion approach, which uses communication to carry out a transfer of information. This includes large-scale media campaigns, social marketing, dissemination of printed materials, ‘education-entertainment’ and other forms of one-way transmission of information from the sender to the receiver. The theory also incorporated interpersonal communication: face-to-face communication that can either be one-on-one or in small groups. The objectives of a diffusion theory are to share information, respond to questions, and motivate specific behavioral practices. The belief is that while mass media allows for the learning of new ideas, interpersonal networks encourage the shift from knowledge to continued practice (Inagaki, 2007).

Resource materials

Hines, E.  (2000). The governance of higher education.  In J. C. Smart    W. G. Tierney (Eds.), Higher Education:  Handbook of Theory and Research,      XV, (pp.105-155).  New York: Agathon.

Inagaki, R., 2007, ‘Communicating the Impact of Communication for Development: Recent Trends in Empirical Research’, World Bank, Washington DC.  Retrieved from

                                                    Shared governance

Shared governance is both an ideal and an operational reality that pertains to ways in which policy decisions are made in colleges and universities” (Hines, 2000, p. 142).  Despite differences in the amount of influence in the governance of academic institutions, the role of faculty is rooted in tradition and assumed as significant by those within the higher education community.  Today more participatory processes including the collective bargaining process has allowed for the development of many areas of shared or participatory decision-making and institutional action (Levin, 2000).  Faculty participation in institutional governance is ingrained in theory and practice within the higher education community.  This shared governance has seen periods of  expanded union efforts, along with changes in communication styles between faculty and administration (Arnold, 2000).       "Shared" doesn't mean that every constituency gets to participate at every stage. Nor does it mean that any stakeholder exercises complete control over the process. A decision should not be a simple matter of a popular vote because someone must remain accountable for the final decision, and committees cannot be held accountable. If I am the hiring authority and I appoint someone who has serious ethical issues from a previous institution, I alone am responsible. No committee or group can be held responsible for such a lack of due diligence.  Shared governance implies adequate communication, but it does not override reasonable diligence (Olson, 2009).

                                   Situated meaning and cultural communication

To explicate how communication functions as a cultural process within an organization, Tierney focuses on situated meaning, speech events, and communicative symbols and ceremonies (Gopaul, 2010). Specifically, Tierney argues, “to consider the situated meaning of communication, one much identify who is and is not involved in governance, the venues where governance takes place and the formal and informal means used to communicate” (Tierney, 2008, p. 122). These notions significantly complicate the nature of decision-making in higher education organizations and bring to bear important questions about the broader sociopolitical structures in which communication is embedded. Cultural Approach to Organizations
The Cultural Approach contends that people are like animals who are suspended in webs that they created. Theorists in this tradition argue that an organization’s culture is composed of shared symbols, each of which has a unique meaning. Organizational stories, rituals, and rites of passage are examples of what constitutes the culture of a university.  The situations in which the communication occurs are a basis for empowering the leaders in higher education (Thomas, 1997).

The director of communications must work closely with whoever is in charge of the institution's strategy – in other words, the office of the president.  As situations change, so also will the means of communicating with the faculty and students.

Resource material:

                                    The potency of communication

“Communication is not a cure-all for the current woes that confront those involved in shared governance, but a concern for organizational reform must be balanced with an awareness of the communicative codes within the workplace. Academic organizations are rich in cultural meanings” (Tierney, 2008, p. 123).  The governance of higher education will enable better service delivery as the level of communication and collaboration increases among the faculty.   

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