Training for a job, as it was done in the past, only works when the content of the work is predictable and repetitive. Learning, on the other hand, is central to the ability of an organization 7
to innovate, and will be key to the future of universities. At the practical level, this means preparing highly competent and qualified staff to be – not only successful teachers and researchers – but to have the added characteristics of being learners, innovators and entrepreneurs. It remains an open question whether, and to what extent, universities will be able to adapt to the “knowledge imperative” and to encourage innovation. It is a complex undertaking and some will choose to err on the side of caution. Innovation that fails can damage an institutions’ reputation or affect its long-term plans. The current management systems of many universities in Africa do not encourage innovation, favouring instead predictability in a given range of activities. That said, failure to transform bureaucratic institutions into “intelligent” and “learning organizations”, able to explore and find new and better ways of achieving their mission, might signal their declining relevance in the future. There can be no innovation without some degree of tolerance for failure and reasonable risk taking. The way universities adapt to the “knowledge and innovation imperatives” will set the context for reforms in the future. The competition for talent will be fierce among universities and between the private and public sectors. People will come to a university if they are given the chance to make a difference, and the opportunity to use their skills and reach their full potential. A university whose role is limited to repetitive and predictable tasks will attract a different kind of workforce. 1.2 CAPACITY BUILDING AND POLICY CAPACITY In order to enable universities to meet new demands and challenges, it is necessary to reshape and reinforce policy capacity. The policy capacity of a university refers to the ability of the VC and its senior managers to make and implement policies. Policy makers face entirely new environments that cannot be properly managed with the kind of capacities on which they have traditionally relied. In many cases, such a capacity is lacking or, at the most, being seriously hampered. There are three reasons for saying this: 1) A lot of universities, especially in developing countries, are struggling to attract sufficient students, retain staff, meet wages bills, satisfy the conditions of outside regulatory bodies, (such as the NCHE), etc. This is where the energy goes of those in positions of leadership – trying to solve problems that need immediate answers. The result is that many VCs become more used to seeing themselves as ‘crisis managers’ rather than as ‘strategic managers’. Few have the time, or the energy, for contemplating the ‘big picture’, articulating the challenges facing their institutions and formulating strategies for the next 10 years of a university’s development.
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