Challenges for a Developmental University
As identified earlier, the traditional function of a university is to produce educated citizens that are equipped with appropriate skills and qualified to fulfill defined roles in the number required by society.
Beyond this, however, a developmental university is expected to provide solutions to concrete problems of societal development. It is in this regard that more emphasis seems to be laid on community/public service than on teaching and research. Community service is to be pursued by:
- Ensuring that the developmental plans of the university are integrated with or linked to national development plans;
- Coordinating its activities with public and private agencies, including other tiers of education;
- According recognition to academics who engage in developmental activities;
- Providing necessary infrastructure for developmental activities;
- Emphasising the developmental role of the university; and
- Facilitating national integration by reducing or eliminating all forms of
A challenge confronting developmental universities, however, is how to effectively combine the traditional functions of a university with its developmental responsibilities. Obstacles that hinder a university from contributing effectively to national development while it remains faithful to its traditional functions include the lack of commitment of government in many developing countries to national development.
Rather, many of the political leaders and government officials in these countries are more committed to their survival and continuation in power, and personal enrichment. These tendencies are clearly inimical to development and would definitely frustrate any development initiative taken by any university.
Another complication relates to the question of competence. The argument here is that academics in most universities were not specifically trained to pursue development the way they are being required by advocates of developmental university. As such, for them to be effective in this pursuit there would be a need for retraining, which would require time and sufficient motivation.
Besides, many academics are conservative and are quite impervious to change. For instance, the ego, self-esteem and professional self-image of academics hinder the kind of retraining and transformation that is requisite for academics to be positioned to contribute to national development the way they are expected to by advocates of developmental universities.
Many of them rather prefer to defend, protect and perpetuate their academic integrity and the form of training they have always known and from which they derive their professional legitimacy.
A further complication for developmental universities is revealed when we consider the principles of freedom and autonomy generally acclaimed to be central to the existence of universities. The university system is expected to be founded on the twin principles of academic freedom and autonomy.
When these principles are compromised, the ideal university system cannot be sustained. While the idea of academic freedom creates room for the free pursuit of knowledge and its dissemination by individual academics without any interference, either from the state or public, university autonomy allows for institutional independence in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.
However, it must be noted that the freedom of academics in teaching and research as well as the institutional independence of universities need not and cannot be absolute. For instance, while academics should not be indifferent to prevailing social realities, universities as institutions of learning are financially accountable to government and other agencies that provide them with funds.
Another problem for developmental universities, from the perspective of the principles of academic freedom and autonomy, is that by being primarily concerned with providing solutions to the concrete problems of social development they tend to be closer, more dependent and accountable to government.
This inevitably hinders universities autonomy and objectivity in the pursuit of truth. For instance, as academics and university administrators either get co-opted or appointed into policy positions in government or are awarded research consultancies by government, as a salary augmenting activity, they lose their freedom to pursue the truth or to be critical of government.
Besides, universities’ primary concern for development in a fundamental sense restricts their research and teaching focus in ways that might be inimical to a broad based knowledge generation and dissemination. It takes academics off their statutory function of teaching and research.
Closely related to the above is the problem described as functional overload. This is the problem of being overloaded with so many responsibilities with the consequence that none of them are fully met in the final analysis. The additional burden to be developmental in focus is often very alluring for its associated financial benefits.
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