Rector's election. What issues still remain

"The strongest one gets everything in this system, sometimes even administrative and technical staff to work for free at private rector's residence. Others at the same time get meager salaries, dingy hostels and cold classrooms"
Rector's election is one of the most effective tools of changing things in a higher educational institution. Of course the result can be achieved if there are candidates to choose from and elections are democratic.

Despite all efforts to improve the organization of such process there are still five key challenges that both candidates and voters have to face.
1. Little awareness

Rector's elections are, in a certain way, the reflection of national elections. Only quite limited circle of specialists understands the specifics of the procedures. The law that changed the rules of rector's elections has been in force since 2015. Nevertheless, it had almost no effect on awareness of potential voters, which include all teaching staff, 15% of students and 5% of other personnel. If there was a survey regarding voters' awareness on the way rectors are elected, there is a big chance that majority of respondents (both teachers and students) would say that it is Academic Council that establishes a head of higher educational institution.

Such important part as candidates' debates is almost absent in election campaign. And of course there is no observer mission, whose main task is monitoring transparency and compliance with all the requirements that are set by the current legislation.
2. Autocracy

The majority of universities in Ukraine preserve autocratic form of government that is built on strict vertical of power from the top down. Rectors formerly were chosen for life-long run by delegates assigned by deans. As a rule it was a choice without actual choice, since the majority of candidates became rectors without competing.

The best that could be is candidacy of some technical candidates that gave a little impression of actual democratic elections. Many years of such practice formed in the majority of HEIs such atmosphere where a regular teacher doesn't feel like their voice really affects the situation. And there is also fear. It is a fear to be left without a job and any means to live or to become an outcast for the integrity and desire to bring changes. To fight these aspects the internal democracy should be strengthen and both students and teachers should be given enough autonomy.
3. Politics

Іt's not a secret that almost every educational institution gets under one or another political influence, not only on national level, but on local level, too. Politics pervades all spheres of public life and educational sphere is not an exception. Government always finds "tools" to persuade a rector to follow "right" ideas. Such cases are particularly prominent when political elites change, for instance, like it was during Orange Revolution or Revolution of Dignity.

Higher educational institutions have incredibly powerful electoral resource in their possession and it always attracts political players. It is difficult to prevent such influence but not impossible. In this case there are two factors that work as an effective defense: reputation of the educational institution and its recognition both in Ukraine and abroad and political impartiality of a rector, who feels real support from their colleagues.
4. Corruption

Unfortunately, the higher education system is still highly corrupt, just like many other spheres. And it is usually rector and administration that represent key beneficiaries of existing corruption schemes that are related not only to university entrance, passing the examinations and hiring for the teaching job. University is also land, rooms and buildings, constant repairs and contracts, tenders, cafeterias and many more. Higher educational institution is like a miniature model of a state with its own "survival system". The strongest one gets everything in this system, sometimes even administrative and technical staff to work for free at private rector's residence. Others at the same time get meager salaries, dingy hostels and cold classrooms.

A lot of talking about fighting corruption in education sphere will unlikely lead to tangible results. Measures that can actually gradually change the situation for better are real investigations and fair sentences, transparent financial reporting, publicity and activity of students in fighting corruption.
5. Gender

Higher education and education in general has a woman's face. Majority of scientific and pedagogical workers are women. However the situation is different in administrative positions. When analyzing senior staff of faculties and educational and research institutes in Ukrainian universities it can be found that not all of them have a balanced gender representation. For example, according to some estimates, in 2015 women held only 9% of the total number of people in the position of rector (principal) in Ukrainian state or municipal higher educational institutions, the number of which is approximately 200 in Ukraine. There was slightly less gender imbalance among pro-rectors (228 women and 763 men). At the same time there are positive examples as well, when women decide to take part in elections and make serious competition to current rectors.
And what's with the EU?

Taking into account European practice, rector's election campaign has a lot in common with national elections. As in politics, proper exercise of rector's power, their positive influence for strategic development of the university and level of independence in making decisions directly depends on the process preceding appointment.

EU member states have different systems of higher education and different models of university management, considering peculiarities of organizational autonomy as one of the four key dimensions of university autonomy in accordance with EUA principles.

There are two main models of appointing executive leader in European universities:

1) elected rector – includes two election procedures: is elected by a certain electoral body that, as a rule, represents (directly or indirectly) different groups of university community (teachers, other staff, students), whose voices are taken into account; is elected by governing body, that id democratically chosen in university community (it is usually senate, that is an authority that makes decisions in academic matters).

2) directly appointed rector – includes two selection options (appointed by senate/university council, that is an authority that makes decisions on strategic matters); appointed in two-stage way, according to which both senate and council take part in election.
Appointment by the internal decisions is practiced in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Croatia, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Great Britain, while formal confirmation is required in Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia.

According to EUA's conclusions, it is at the national legislative level that the procedure for confirmation / non-confirmation of the elected rector by the state body, the qualification requirements of which must meet the candidate for the position, and the exact term of office in most countries, including Poland, are determined. The same applies for rector's dismissal.
Therefore, there is no universal approach that could guarantee election of only the best candidates for the rector position. Electoral system is a complicated and complex mechanism that requires full involvement of all interested participants. And it's the educational community that should set the trend on positive changes.
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