Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Evaluation and self-evaluation of universities in Europe: Evaluations of resources -Evaluations of the organisation, of the university government and of financial means

By resources, we mean evidently the personnel (academics, engineers, technicians, administrative personnel and workers), but also the financial resources. At last, the organisation is also a resource: the university government and the structures (faculties, departments, administrative and technical services). In comparison to the teaching and to the research evaluations, the evaluation of resources is still weakly structured and is relatively new, even if the evaluation of staff, as individuals, is traditional. The evaluation of resources is centred on the efficiency: are they used in the best way to reach good results?

Evaluations of the organisation:
The evaluation of the organisation concerns a whole of resources: the university government and the decision-making process, the teaching and research structures, the financial resources. The evaluation questions: is the university organisation efficient and effective to achieve the teaching and research missions which are assigned by the law? We observe, in the case studies, two tendencies. Evaluations of the organisation are rather specialised; they are not directly linked to teaching and research evaluations; they are weakly co-ordinated. The evaluation of the organisation is developing, but it is not institutionalised in all the countries and in all the universities; the evaluation of the university government and of the decision-making process meets a lot of obstacles.

Evaluations of the university government:
It is paradoxical to observe that the external evaluation of universities, which is developing in all the European countries, pays little attention for the university governments, in spite of the fact that they are reinforced. How the university government analyses the needs of the society, of the users, of the partners? How they decide the objectives to achieve? Which priorities they set up? Which resources they allocate to the priorities? How and by which organisation they implement them? How they evaluate the results? Who are the governing people? If we have to rule out the hypothesis that governments have a little influence on the university results, several hypothesis can explain the weak development of the governments evaluation. The governing staff, when he decides an external evaluation, can exclude the topic from the evaluation. The external evaluators do not evaluate the government because he has to implement the imposed or recommended changes. To evaluate the governments can lead to destabilise some of them and this fact is not desirable because, at present, it is difficult to find teachers who accept to take responsibilities. At last, university governments are elected for a limited period: the evaluation would take the place of the election.

In fact, the university government and particularly the rector play a key-role in the development of external evaluations and in the dynamics of internal changes. At the same time, the external evaluation strengthens the central government of universities. More, the evaluation is one of the factors contributing to the consolidation of a specific government, the presidential one or more precisely the presidential-managerial one (strong rector and strong administrative hierarchical line working according to the entrepreneurial criteria). However, the perpetuation of such a government is governed by the alliances or compromises passed with the two traditional university governments, the collegial one (one cannot abolish the influence of the academic staff profession bodies), the bureaucratic one (with an administrative hierarchy who controls the implementation of rules set up by the public authority).

Evaluations of financial means:
The role of public resources in the university funding is predominant in all the countries. However, changes are obvious and allow understanding orientations of resources evaluations. All the changes seem to be the consequence of increased financial pressures: in a context of Higher Education growth, public authorities want keep under control and to rationalise financial resources allocated to universities. The financial pressure is higher in the countries of northern Europe, i.e. in the countries in which the expenses by student are higher than in the average of OECD.

First evolution: the "globalisation" of the allocated resources. Universities can distribute a lump sum budget according to their strategy; it is a way to reaffirm the autonomy and the responsibility of each institution. In fact, the globalisation is not total: it rarely includes investments for real estates; in France, the lump sum budget does not include the civil servant wages. Another tendency is that the resources are allocated by the public authorities not only according to activity criteria (number of students for instance), but, more and more, upon the basis of contracts. In the first time, these contracts fund objectives, bargained with and accepted by the public authorities; in the second time, but according to a proportion, which is still minority, contracts allocate funding according to the achieved results (funding according to the performance achieved during the previous period). We also observe a tendency to allocate funding for a number of years for the investments or for the contract objectives. At last, we observe a tendency to the diversification of financial sources: increased funding by regional public authorities, by firms, by students (student fees).

To evaluate the financial means is to evaluate the resources and the expenses of each institution and of its components. Resources and expenses are presented under the form of a budget (resources and expenses for the following period) and/or of a balance sheet (resources and expenses of a previous period). The budgeting process (preparation, discussion and vote by the university council) is an internal evaluation of the financial means. At the same time, budget and balance sheets are the main tools for the evaluations conducted by external evaluation bodies. A clear and transparent presentation of the balance sheet is the necessary basis for the "accountability" principle. This principle is still rarely implemented: we have to emphasise that budgets and balance sheets, presented in the university councils, have a very diverse structure, not only from a country to another, but also from a university to another within the same country. The most often, comparisons are impossible.

A second tendency is, in most of countries, that the university balance sheet is regulated by the public accounting: this limits the financial autonomy of universities; as a consequence, universities sometimes set up more flexible and private structures (Foundations or Associations), particularly for the research or continuous training activities. One of the financial means evaluations is the "conformity control": resources and expenses are examined by external bodies that have in charge the economic and financial control of the public institutions. In some countries, we observe the tendency of these bodies to audit the pertinence of expenses. A third tendency is the punctual recourse to private consultant agencies: they audit such or such aspect of the financial situation.

The last tendency is the development of the internal evaluation. It is developed in relation with the internal process of resources allocation. New allocation mechanisms and new criteria of resources distribution between the university components: they allow changes in allocated resources according to the strategic choices, decided by the university. The internal evaluation is particularly developing when there is a financial pressure, limited or reduces resources; it is also an effect of the external evaluations. It needs, at least in a first period, a strengthening and a centralisation of the budgetary and financial management: we observe, for instance, the creation of central funds that the rector can allocate according to the university strategy. Then, the evaluation can lead to decentralised budgetary policies (each component is responsible for its resources and its expenses), to policies of internal contracts (funds are allocated to a university component according to its objectives and to its results).

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Pierre DUBOIS
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