LIKE all sectors, education, is also suffering an uncertain future.
The fluidity of the higher education environment as expressed in the change of terms (from human being to human capital, from collegiality to corpocracy, to name a few) puts the future on hold.
This is the impending challenge that we have hardly responded to except in reactive ways (mostly through "herd-mentality" approaches) creating even more complex problems.
In such a situation, how does university leadership respond?
Here are four suggestions.
First is through the acquisition of anticipatory skills. This follows from the axiom: the best way to manage the future is to visualise it.
The old assumption based on a stable and predictable world is no longer applicable. Hence the ability to predict and forecast is a much needed leadership skill.
There are several ways of "doing" this but university leadership is still stuck with old methods disguised in what is dubbed as "shifts". In most cases, the "shifts" are shackled and framed by old structures.
Thus, without strong institutional and governance support and autonomy as well as deep-seated academic freedom the change envisaged is mostly superficial and unsustainable.
Second – assimilative skills. This takes on from the first where relevance and context become the defining criteria. While predictions can be made as accurately as possible, not everything can be forecast.
The last decade is testament to much of this. With the right assimilative skills put through "social engagement" another form of "forecasting" can be better assured.
This is because it involves many other forms of knowledge – like ubuntu in Africa, kizuna in Japan, mizan in West Asia, and sejahtera in Malaysia where community-driven consultation and participation is fundamental in visualising the future especially with respect to relationships among the people within the context of humanity and its environment.
It informs "modern" knowledge the scope of the future through better inputs from the community that is organically rooted. Thus the more global the community engagement, the better the "forecasting" derived from a bottom-up feedback mechanism will be.
In other words, assimilative skills are about ensuring the community is not maligned as part of a future hijacked by the rich and dominant as it is today.
The poor and the weak continue to be subjected to a number of divides that generally keep them where they are.
At the same time, diversity is being reduced to a monolithic one-size-fits-all model currently being imposed.
Universities too are reduced to this model by commercial ranking agencies that decide what is to be "measured" pushing social engagement to the margin.
Gradually, universities become symbolically isolated as their leaders remain aloof in the lofty offices "protected" by the use of access cards.
Third – assertive skills. On gaining an understanding of what is relevant and desirable as a futuristic and engaged university, the learning path needs to be built in an assertive way.
In other words, there can be no compromise in challenging the status quo in creating a future based on the authority of ideas. Not ideas of authorities as practised today.
The Blue Ocean Strategy is part of this approach as competition is made irrelevant while the learning path is further enabled to proceed more smoothly setting "new" benchmarks for the future.
Meanwhile, tolerance for "mistakes" and "failures" is encouraged to refine the path ahead – part of the learning process and building trust. This are the most basic principles of life that must be incorporated when embedding assertive skills.
Last but not least is the acquisition of accelerative skills. As the future keeps reinventing itself, there is no time to lose in planting the "idea" in the most efficient way possible.
However, in reality procrastination is more often the norm, which is clearly unacceptable especially for an institution that is supposed to prime the future for change.
Instead, the move must be brisk and swift – working tirelessly towards fruition. This once again begs the need for a total ecological transformation towards institutional autonomy, as well as academic freedom and governance.
It calls for sacrifices, which are increasingly replaced today by W3I4M ("what is it in for me") fuelled by the desire to build personal legacies at the expense of the institution.
According to Eastern wisdom: "Determine early on whether your passion is your true calling, or just a fantasy to get out of your system." If it is the latter, it is because leadership fails to grasp the idea and role of a university as a disinterested institution in the search of truth.
Succinctly, the 4As embedded in autonomy (another "A") are the new imperatives for university leaders of the future.
To quote Warren Bennis on 21st-century leadership: Leaders conquer the context – the volatile, the turbulent, the ambiguous surroundings that sometimes seem to conspire against and will surely suffocate us if we let them – while managers surrender to it. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak The Sundaily Letters My View 23 August 2016 - 09:47pm