Administrators in African universities

Along with Dr Brian Jennings of the Ghana Christian University College, I was asked by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) to design and deliver a programme for mid-level administrators in African Universities so that they can be better able to support learning and teaching within their universities. This came about from the ACU’s recognition that the role of administrators is often undervalued and they usually have little access to training opportunities, especially accredited training.

All too often legitimate concerns such as this are addressed by ‘running workshops’, where good learning may well occur, but where there is little evidence of any subsequent impact. We decided to design this programme so participants would develop a change project to be implemented in their universities.

We ran a week-long programme in London for 13 administrators drawn from six African countries. During this time we facilitated input and discussion on key issues of learning and teaching such as Quality Assurance, Assessment & Feedback and Technology Enhanced Learning. In addition, there were sessions on professional skills such as communication and giving presentations. There were plenty of lively discussions and finding of commonalities and differences across the continent. One interesting discussion centred on the notion of ‘best practice’ and how this cultivated the idea that ‘best practice’ somehow existed and was to be found elsewhere, often in the West. In turn this can lead to a search for some ideal and so often overlooks good local practice and development suited to local contexts.

We covered project planning from a strengths-based perspective. This turned out to be the right approach as these administrators could often be categorised as having lower status roles compared to their academic colleagues, despite their skills, qualifications and contributions. Peer feedback helped to ensure that projects met the key criteria of being concisely described, manageable in a three month time frame and able to deliver evidence of impact. Projects could be team-based or faculty wide; examples include moving from a paper based to electronic reporting system and implementation of a systematic staff planning process. In order to complete the programme participants must implement their projects in the next three months and critically reflect on their learning.

To support their work and offset the risks of isolation on return they will each recruit a mentor in their own university and are encouraged to sign up to the programme’s LinkedIn group for discussing issues and sharing progress.

In addition, the programme will be accredited by the Staff and Education Development Association and formally evaluated so that we can assess the impact of the programme – what were the outcomes and evidence and from that, and shall we run it again?

The week was a great success, plenty of enthusiasm, learning and laughter, now let’s see how the projects go…

Ian Willis