Policy Briefs


University Autonomy and Corporatisation in Southeast Asia

Key considerations for policy makers and leaders

Institutional autonomy and the corporatisation of public universities in Southeast Asia are no longer a choice for policymakers to make, but a political imperative.

This is often due to cuts in government funding of public universities, with the requirement that universities be more self-sufficient financially. Yet there is still the expectation for these universities to achieve the same results, if not more. Additionally, pressures, such as that brought on by the university league table rankings phenomenon, have spawned the use of increasingly sophisticated systems of key performance indicators (KPIs) in the management of university affairs.

Institutional autonomy and university corporatisation are terms which imply very different practices in different countries. For instance, the academic staff of corporatised Malaysian universities remain civil servants, while this is not the case in Singapore. Rather than assume that there is a monolithic phenomenon of corporatisation, this policy brief discusses specific developments in various countries and in universities in these countries.

No one-size-fits-all recommendations can be made across countries and regions, but higher education policy makers and administrators must be well aware and be informed as to the consequences of various options in the corporatisation process, rather than to leave it to the vargaries of policy fads or political pressure. This policy brief therefore seeks to provide that awareness and information, as objectively as possible, by:

  • Providing examples and illustrations of how university autonomy and corporatisation initiatives have played out in practice;
  • Sharing best practices; and
  • Warning of the potential pitfalls of some options in the management of universities. 

About this Policy Brief

The case studies on which this policy brief is based came from a research study on university governance in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, conducted under the auspices of The HEAD Foundation in 2016. The researchers in that study were Molly N.N. Lee, Loke Hoe Yeong, Wan Chang Da, Morshidi Sirat, Benedict Weerasena, Rattana Lao and Jason Tan. Additional insights came from a closed-door expert roundtable with higher education policy makers and university leaders held at The HEAD Foundation in Singapore on 24 February 2017.

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