How to make higher education socially relevant?

The Institute for the Development of Education points to major procedural oversights in the proposal for a new legal framework for Croatian higher education.

 

Furthermore, we have been witness to a number of corruption scandals at some universities that point to non-transparent financial transactions and irresponsibility towards spending public funds. What is lacking is strategic thinking regarding the role of higher education in interaction with other sectors of society and the impact of higher education in directing social development and thus meeting the needs of the society and individuals. It is the impact of higher education in conjunction with business and other sectors that is crucial in defining the position of Croatia in the global society and global economy, particularly in the context of Croatian accession to the European Union.

The Institute for the Development of Education believes that the new legislative proposals in higher education proposed by MSES address the problems of lack of integration of public higher education institutions and the marginalised social role of higher education, as well as offer solutions based mainly on the practices of individual EU countries, especially Austria. The legislative proposals are worthy of attention because in large part they bring positive and necessary changes.

However, the fundamental democratic principle of the legitimacy of public policies involves a broad public discussion with all key stakeholders in making such important changes in the higher education system before sending the new law to parliament. This would ensure evidence-based solutions improvements to existing problems. Additionally, with the purpose of having a quality public discussion, it is necessary to provide information on what preceded the legislation draft, which analyses and examples of good practice are the basis for the new legislation and who has participated in the drafting of the legislation. It is particularly important to provide information on the role of the proposed legislation in the overall development strategy for higher education in order to consider and assess the scope of the new legislation. Finally, it is necessary to ensure ample time for public discussion in order to reach high quality solutions that match the actual needs of the society and individuals.

Since MSES has limited public discussion to 14 working days without necessary clarifications, the Institute for the Development of Education believes that this prevents the proposal of quality solutions because it does not provide for a clear overview of the role and objectives of the proposed law in the broader context of higher education development in Croatia.

 
The adoption of the new Law on Universities and Law on Higher Education must to be a part both of Croatia’s development strategy and of an overall strategy for the development of Croatian higher education. Due to the untimely manner in which the public was informed about plans for the adoption of new laws, as well as the lack of information about the goals and expected effects of the laws, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports of the Republic of Croatia (MSES) did not demonstrate sufficient openness and responsibility which could have resulted in better draft laws that truly reflect the real needs of the main stakeholders in higher education.
The Croatian higher education system indisputably needs a new legal framework. The existing Law on Scientific Activities and Higher Education does not enable the effective management of the higher education system, particularly with regard to public universities. At the largest public universities, university management is made particularly difficult because universities are not integrated. As a result of the current lack of effectivess in the management of universities, in the past ten years Croatian public universities have not played an sufficient role in the social and economic development of Croatia.