Paris, August 1998

Original English



Thematic Debate: "Higher Education Staff Development:

A Continuing Mission"


Leader: Commonwealth Secretariat


Drafted by: John Fielden


Commonwealth Higher Education

Management Service (CHEMS)


in collaboration with



. Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)

. World Confederation of Teachers/or Confederation

Syndicale Mondiale de líenseignement (CSME)

. European Association for Research and Development in Higher Education (EARDHE)

. Education Internationale (EI)

. International Council for Engineering and Technology (ICET)

. International Federation of University Women (IFUW)

. International Labour Organisation (ILO)





This paper discusses a key activity in the higher education institutions of the future. Staff development, it will be argued, is central to the quality of higher education. The way it is considered and delivered at present owes a lot to the general employment framework and conditions of service for university staff. In this paper it is discussed as a discrete function and thought is given to how it can be encouraged and promoted by institutions, governments and independent agencies. Although policies on staff development may be made at national, provincial or institutional levels, there is an emerging trend of granting more autonomy to institutions and thus, in considering future change, the main focus is on what institutional managers should do.  

The paper looks at all the challenges facing higher educational institutions and then suggests the competencies which will be needed by those managing their institutions and by academic and administrative staff. It finds a major shortfall in the effort and funding now being devoted to staff development of all kinds, despite the efforts of many providers and networks of concerned practitioners.  


The paper suggests that there is significant scope for collaborating in meeting this challenge, through the sharing of experiences, workshops and exchanges of materials and ideas. Institutions are asked to make clear their policies on staff development and then to implement them with enthusiastic support from the leadership. It concludes with recommendations for similar action by governments and agencies such as UNESCO.


Finally, the paper poses ten questions for the participants at the World Conference to discuss.





This paper discusses a key activity in the higher education institutions of the future. Staff Development, it will be argued, is central to the quality of higher education. The way it is considered and delivered at present owes a lot to the general employment framework and conditions of service for university staff. Yet in this paper it is discussed as a discrete function. Although policies on staff development may be made at national, provincial or institutional levels, there is an emerging trend of granting more autonomy to institutions and thus, in considering future change, there is a focus on what institutional managers should do.  


1. Why Bother About Staff Development?


Higher education institutions, such as universities, colleges and polytechnics, are labour intensive organisations; they depend on people for the delivery of their services. The quality of the staff in institutions of tertiary education is thus central to their effectiveness, in the same way that it is to all people-centred organisations. A recent World Bank paper commented that "a high quality and well motivated teaching staff and a supportive professional culture are essential in building excellence" (World Bank, 1994). UNESCO has itself recognised the important role of staff in higher education by passing a Recommendation on the topic at its General Conference in Paris in November 1997.


In business and the professions there is a wide recognition that the skills of their staff need to be continually strengthened and enhanced. In the face of challenges from national and international competitors the better companies are investing more resources in the continual training and re-training of employees at all levels. They focus not only on the competence of their staff, but also give time to stressing the need for commitment to the organisationís goals and to promoting a capacity to change. Should not the same be true of our institutions of higher education? They are crucial to national aspirations for economic development and, if such capacity building aims are to be achieved, the institutions will have to make the most effective use of all their human resources.


In some academic fields it is said that the total of human knowledge is doubling every five or ten years. It is thus almost impossible for an individual staff member to remain in touch with the subject without a conscious investment in scholarship and self-tuition. When these knowledge advances are allied to similar changes in pedagogy, learning materials development and the use of technology, the scale of self improvement required becomes massive. For administrative and support staff there are equally rapid changes in management processes, techniques and technology. Surely the institution should recognise this and have a strategy for enabling each individual to confront this task? Or can it afford to sit back and ignore the fact that its teachers are providing out of date information in an inefficient way? If this happens, how long will it be before employers, government and the students themselves complain about the relevance of the courses and the skills and understandings they have failed to acquire?


In considering any strategy for developing human resources an institution must consider all its staff; administrative and support personnel can play crucial roles in helping students to learn, and in enabling and facilitating an environment that favours learning. If non-academic staff are committed to the goals of an institution, they can be valuable partners in working with academic colleagues. The boundaries between categories of staff are blurring, as graduates assume jobs that would previously have been taken by non-graduates. In libraries, computer centres and laboratories those jobs once labelled "non-professional" are being filled by people who will expect to be challenged and to have careers which allow them to continue learning. To deny them staff development would miss a massive opportunity for the institution.


In developing countries one of the biggest problems is that of obtaining and then retaining staff. A recent study shows that 22 out of 45 African universities still rely on foreigners to fill 20% or more of their faculty positions (Saint, 1992). Higher salaries in the private and para-statal sectors often tempt away the best brains from higher education. One of the few weapons in a Vice Chancellorís armoury is to offer key academics the staff development opportunities and then the subsequent linkage and international partnership arrangements which usually follow.



2. What Are the Current Challenges?


In no country are higher education institutions immune from severe pressures and challenges. Not only do governments talk to one another about funding, but the growing globalisation of higher education imposes similar burdens and threats on every institution.


Among the principal challenges which affect human resource development are the following:


a) the growth in demand for higher education is a world wide phenomenon whether one approaches it from the standpoint of an age participation ratio of 35% or of 5%. UNESCO has charted the expansion in student enrolments from 13 million in 1960 to 65 million in 1991. In many countries the rate of expansion has exceeded that of the economy, while the reluctance of some countries to contemplate cost sharing (in Africa for example) has posed a major problem for their public sector financing. In institutional terms the expansion of numbers has placed pressures on facilities of all kinds.


b) financial constraints in all countries mean that governments can no longer fund higher education to the same extent as previously. Apart from asking students and their parents to share the cost, their response has been to call for continued efficiency savings (or simple cuts) in institutional budgets, which has led throughout the world to more severe staff student ratios and heavier workloads for academic staff. Another government response is to expect institutions to generate more of their income from non-governmental sources such as industry or commerce. This places new demands on academic staff who are expected to master entrepreneurial skills in converting their specialist knowledge into market-oriented services. One irony of the situation is that institutional budgets for human resource development are often the first to be cut, just when they are most needed, in times of severe financial difficulty. In many countries the reduction in funding for state institutions is leading to a growth in higher education provision by the private sector.


c) a focus on basic education has persuaded many developing countries to limit their support for higher education. Many bilateral donors have followed the messages from Jomtien and reduced their funding for higher education. Within many countries the reputation and public image of universities and the students in them has not helped their cause of getting more finance from either government or industry.


d) the government and public expectations of universities and other tertiary institutions are that they will be able to serve wider audiences of students, at different levels, in different ways. Thus among the new expectations will be:









These expectations place a great onus on institutions to give much more formal consideration to the needs of their stakeholders in their strategic planning and to involve their communities in advising on their institutionís development.


e) A concern for quality of the product has accompanied the expansion in numbers and the reduction in funding. There is an inevitable fear that "more means worse" and quality will suffer as mass higher education becomes a reality. Governments, parents and students are asking questions about the teaching/learning process and are expecting institutions and funding bodies to monitor the quality of the processes and their outcomes. This questioning adds new pressures to academic staff, not only through the new accountability and reporting procedures, but also through having to be more explicit about the way they conduct themselves and more formal in the way they evaluate the effectiveness of their work. They must also be alert to the different ways in which they can maintain quality with larger class or group sizes.


f) Technological change affects all disciplines (but to varying extents) and expects staff members to be alert to the latest innovations in teaching method and research support. It is evident that there are at least three sets of distinguishing factors: the age factor in which younger staff members feel more at home with technology; the discipline factor in which some academic subjects are more affected than others and the developing country factor in which the gulf between "technology haves" and "technology have-nots" is widening. Even though access to the Internet will eventually enable developing country universities to remedy some of the deficiencies in their library and information services, this will only partly help to close the gap.


g) The importance of increasing womenís participation among staff and students presents institutions with a clear challenge. As regards students this will affect their admissions strategies, their student support services and sometimes their teaching practices. Thus, several categories of staff may need to be involved in the solution. An even harder challenge faces those seeking to achieve a higher involvement of women in the higher ranks of teachers, researchers or institutional management. Whether the blockages to change in these two areas are in attitudes or processes, the problem requires a strategic review, followed by firm action, if it is to be resolved.


h) The demands of the labour market are changing dramatically and inevitably affect those institutions which seek to be responsive to national or regional demand. Some industries in developed countries operate in a global market place and thus recruit on an international basis and compare one countryís graduates with anotherís. It may be unwise to ignore global or regional perspectives in the curricula in any courses which aim to serve these industries. Patterns of employment are also changing; courses which once met national needs are now irrelevant. New offerings are required in areas such as telecommunications, tourism, health care, financial services, food technology and transportation studies. Students who fear unemployment after graduation will now be seeking the more vocational and relevant courses which enhance their chances of employment. In many countries they will also need to be taught how to create their own employment opportunities, when traditional employment is not available. All these changes require increasing adaptability among academic staff, particularly those in declining disciplines.


  1. Effective management demands new skills within institutions which may not always be present among those who traditionally lead at either central or faculty level. There are widespread complaints within institutions about "new managerial cultures" driving out the old academic collegial spirit, yet the very complexity of the demands on senior institutional managers makes it essential for them to be fully professional. In seeking to achieve this they must learn to adapt commercial management techniques sensitively to the academic environment and never forget the mission of the institution they serve. The technical skills needed by todayís institutional managers call into question some of the traditional management structures and job specifications. If it is thought that the answer rests in greater devolution to Deans and other middle level managers, this means that a large number of people in each institution will require management development support. 


  1. What Roles Will People in Higher Educational Institutions Play in Future and What Competencies Will They Need?


These daunting challenges are likely to have a considerable impact on the work and role of each of the main participants in institutions. All will be affected by a number of common changes and trends. There are seven: 


These have varying impacts on each category of person in an institution and we now review this in turn.


For institutional leaders, Rectors, Vice Presidents, Pro Vice Chancellors etc, the challenges are immense. They bear the brunt of decision making and strategic direction in new, very uncertain environments. Leadership skills will be essential as will communications and persuasive skills in convincing academic colleagues of the need for changes to long established habits.


The leadership role will centre on the management of change and on reconciling the essential need to adapt what are usually conservative institutions with the opposition and unease that such change will cause. Thus, the key roles for such leaders will include:



Institutional managers such as deans and heads of departments are the Executive Headís partners in ensuring that change happens. They have a leadership role at the discipline level and a key part in implementing institutional change. They will share in the turmoils of managing institutions (and people) in transition: however, because their responsibilities are at a more detailed level they will need to have more tangible competencies. Among them will be the following:




Academic staff in their teaching role face probably the biggest set of challenges to their working patterns. They bear the ultimate burden of having to "do more with less", as student numbers increase without matching funding. They are being asked to teach a wider range of students (mature, disadvantaged, part time etc) in different ways involving new methods and technologies. Their accountabilities are being sharpened and made explicit, as quality reviews and assessments examine what they do.


In this harsh environment a model teaching staff member would have the following competencies:




This formidable list of required competencies is unlikely to come together in any one person, so that there will be a tendency to encouraging staff to specialise in some of the skills and functions described.


Academic staff in their research role are also under pressure. Universities are increasingly basing their assessment of research quality on the ability of researchers to raise outside funding, as well as on the volume of research conducted and published. Funding is much more competitive than before and often open to international bidders. Research customers are becoming more demanding in the quality of the proposals they require and the final end products they expect. Among the skills which researchers now need are:



For academic support staff in libraries, resource and computer centres there are matching demands. The new technologies require mastery of new techniques and software in searching for information and a changed role in supporting users of these support services. The boundaries are blurring between the roles of teachers and those advising students on information retrieval. Both are helping the student to access knowledge held elsewhere and both are faced with calls for help over longer hours from a wider ability range of students. The UKís Dearing Report endorsed this finding "where communications and information technology has changed the nature of learning and teaching, there is a need to review and redefine the roles of academic and support staff within institutions".


For administrative staff there are also new competencies required:




Some of these are echoed for technical and manual staff who find themselves under equal pressures to be more cost effective, flexible in work practices, more technically alert and more sensitive to what their customers want. In addition, they are often now expected to work in a less secure environment due to threats of outsourcing or contracting out their services. As a reward for accepting this uncertainty they are sometimes being brought more into decision making and being asked to share in the corporate ethos of the institution.


In developing countries there are particular problems which affect the ability of staff at all levels to acquire the skills described. When even professorial staff are paid salaries so low that they are not enough to feed their families, it is not surprising that staff should spend much of their time on second and even third jobs. Retaining good staff in such circumstances is often only possible because the institution provides a house at a negligible rent, but finding funds and time for staff development is much harder. In addition, the pressures of survival limit the time that even the most professional staff members can devote to activities other than the basic teaching load.


In small states there are unique staff development problems arising from the small size of higher education institutions. Limited human resource capacity in the country makes senior staff very dependent on external partnerships for advice and information. Multi-skilling within institutions is unavoidable and there are inevitable shortages of specialist staff.



4. What Types of Initial and Ongoing Training are Needed to Meet These Challenges?


It is essential that a response to the challenge is integrated and holistic. In the words of Mukherjee and Singh (1994) "there must be a total comprehensive approach where academic, management, administrative and technical support staff development are viewed as a whole within a facilitating infrastructure". There are two other key principles which should be borne in mind: staff at all levels should be encouraged to expect to embark on lifelong learning, in their discipline and in the skills needed for their workplace and their role in their institution; any staff development programme must adopt multiple mechanisms for its delivery offering flexibility of access.


In this model world institutions would have clear strategies covering staff development for all levels of staff at all stages of their career. These would be integrated with their human resource strategies so that selection and promotion criteria, career planning and staff appraisal processes were all influenced by the strategy.


Initial training for academic staff in institutions is not universal and after a generation of worthy campaigning by staff developers it is still unusual to find countries where it is even mandatory to have completed any training before being confirmed in an academic post. The position has been brutally summarised: "university teaching is unprofessional; there are no agreed standards, no body of knowledge and skills neophytes have to master before being allowed to practise, no peer review, no accountability as yet" (Kogan and Moses, 1993). It is time to question why this has happened; what are the barriers to the acceptance of the need for such training? Is it that the traditional culture of institutions is so resistant to change? Are the problems those of setting priorities in the allocation of financial resources? Could it be that the academicís prime loyalty to a discipline has prevented him or her from wanting to learn how to teach and how to best serve the institution? However, even here the pedagogical pressures have rarely provided what might be called a systematic, professional approach to personal development.


There are exceptions to the dismal picture. India has 48 academic staff colleges, funded by the University Grants Committee, which offer initial training and limited mid career training to all university staff. In the United Kingdom the recommendation in the Dearing Report (1997) to create an Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education for all academic staff is being energetically pursued. Formal training for higher education staff was required in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In West European states such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany institutions have been making efforts to strengthen pedagogical training and the status of staff development programmes has increased. Some of the hopeful signs are:



Continuing professional development (CPD) in the academic teaching profession has had as disappointing a history as initial training. Even though some regard it "an essential rather than a desirable objective, an obligation rather than an option - both a professional expectation and duty and a responsibility that institutions have for their staff" (Gordon and Partington, 1996), this view is rarely echoed by those allocating resources within institutions or at national level. Voluntary courses offered by an underfunded central support service are the normal approach to meeting this need. When one allies this reality with the massive changes and challenges described earlier, there are more big questions to answer? Why is it, when quality of teaching is such a concern of governments, that so few resources are dedicated to helping staff to learn how to improve their teaching performance? In Germany, for example there are a mere 60 professional staff developers for a potential audience of 140,000. How can this culture be changed?


There are some positive developments; one such, based on a self-help approach to staff development is taken by Singapore Polytechnic in which all staff are asked to assess their skills and score themselves in a range of topic areas (such as financial management, Internet navigation). Those who score highly are then asked to run courses for those who score poorly. The whole activity is managed by a central staff development function.


When one reviews the position with regard to CPD for managerial and administrative staff in institutions, there are some striking international examples of activity for Executive Heads (the CRE programmes in Europe and those of the Australian Vice Chancellorís Committee), but the general picture is of an ad hoc spasmodic response to the problem of providing adequate management development for, say, Deans or Heads of Departments. With regard to administrative and support staff the picture is the same. In Great Britain an innovative attempt to run a Certificate of Professional Staff Development for non academic staff is being discontinued because not enough universities were willing to pay for the training.


Distance learning provision may be a solution to the larger scale problems of staff and management development in some countries. Once the material has been developed, there are significant advantages of cost and flexibility in delivery. The potential of the world wide web has not yet been tested in this context.


If the goal is to achieve a state of "systematic professionalism" for all teaching staff, the resource implications are usually the primary consideration. The key question becomes: should the financial burden be borne by government, the institution or the individual who will be benefiting?



5. What Kinds of Working Conditions and Incentive Systems Should Accompany Training Policies to Motivate Personnel and Create a Favourable Working Environment?


All over the world the basis on which staff are employed is changing. Several countries are abandoning universal tenure for academic staff in favour of term contracts and the jobs of many non-academic staff are subject to the threat of competitive tendering from external contractors. Many institutional managers find that employing part time contract staff is a cost-effective way of meeting their need for teaching skills. For teachers and researchers in particular one should ask, what is the continuing place of tenure and other forms of job security within the institution? Will increasing insecurity affect the willingness of the individual to adapt and change in line with the institutionís requests?  


Salaries and salary structures have in the past been based on civil service precedents. Yet now there is competition from private sector institutions of higher education with deeper pockets and differing reward systems. How realistic is it to consider relating pay to performance and what effect will this have on the demand for staff development? Can the state sector compete by stressing non-pay benefits such as the status of a professorial title? Will institutions be able to retain good people in this way? Is there not a case for devising incentive systems, as institutionsí earnings from the commercial sector increase? If staff bring in extra income from non governmental sources, what share of it should they be able to retain? If policies are generous to the individual in this respect, will it prove divisive within the institution if it favours staff in disciplines with high potential for such earning?  


The implications of the changes in the age profile and study mode of students are that working hours for all teaching staff in institutions will lengthen to stretch into evenings and weekends. This can be resourced by expecting existing staff to work in a different way or by using job-sharing, part time helpers or non-academic support staff.


The culture within which academic staff operate has always favoured research excellence at the expense of teaching. It is proving very hard to remove this inbuilt bias to selection and promotion procedures even in those cases where institutional missions favour teaching excellence.



6. What Could Be the Role of Inter-University Co-operation Strategies in the Development of Human Resources in Higher Education?


There is a large gap between the massive need for staff development and the present small level of activity, and this should lead some governments and institutions to plan an increase in their provision. In many cases they have much to learn about how to plan, develop, promote and then deliver staff development programmes. Inter-university Co-operation can play a major role in helping those at the beginning of the learning curve benefit from the greater experience of others.


Such co-operation can be provided through national networks or professional associations of staff developers within a country (such as the Universities and Colleges Staff Development Agency) or within a region (such as the European Network on Staff Development in Higher Education (Berendt, 1994) or the Staff Development in Eastern and Southern Africa Network); however, few countries have such organisations and therefore most institutions will need to seek an international network. In recent years UNESCOís Networks for Staff Development have met this need, as they have brought together groups of those concerned with staff development in higher education institutions. Such networks have cost implications in the first instance, although their existence can bring operational economies by helping members to share resources and learn from each othersí experience.


Areas where such network co-operation can prove valuable are:



Once networks of this kind are created, they allow a variety of interactions between members: exchanges of materials, easy communications with each other (via e mail discussion groups), the opportunity to meet at network workshops, staff exchanges between members, jointly run activities, formal problem solving consultancy visits by one member to another etc. The great value of networks is that they provide an easy forum for peer review and debate; if this can include people from other cultures and environments, there will be the added bonus of the diversity from a range of international perspectives.


The importance of South-South and North-South alliances should not be overlooked, as long as it does not add to the brain drain from the lesser to the more developed partner. Many developing countries regard staff development as being limited solely to the period spent achieving a doctorate outside their country and ignore all the later stages of continuing professional development in teaching. 


7. The Next Steps: Some Suggestions for Action


This paper has identified the scale of the problem and has described some of the institutional responses to date. It is clear that these have not matched the need and that much more has to be done if the human resource capacity of our higher education institutions is to be fully and effectively utilised. We now consider some suggestions for action by the various participants. The organisation able to adopt these proposals will vary according to where authority lies in each country.


For all the staff in institutions the issue is one of awareness of the need for continuing development. What is often lacking is the strong push by them for the development of training and development opportunities. In the absence of this demand training providers sometimes find that the courses they offer are undersubscribed. Staff Development Units may be good at publicising their events and services, but do they take time to show staff why such development is essential to them personally? It is unusual for staff representatives and trade unions to push hard for staff development for their members in discussions and negotiations with management. Is there a case for an intervention by national and international bodies through offering advice and support to staff unions, by showing them the scale of the problem and urging them to pursue the matter within their institutions? 


For institutional managers there are several areas where action is needed:




For governments and national funding agencies there are several ways they can achieve effective staff development strategies. If they are in a position to control such matters centrally, they should modify the national systems of recruitment and promotion in order to stress the importance of staff development by making it mandatory at certain stages. If institutions are responsible for such matters, governments can make it clear that staff development has their strong backing by asking to see human resource strategies as part of their reviews of institutional strategic planning. They could even consider penalising those institutions which have not given proper consideration to staff development activities in their planning and funding. They can also directly fund innovations in staff development; in Scotland in 1995, for example, the Funding Council set aside a special fund for staff development in four specialist topics and invited institutions to bid. 

Governments can also promote collaboration and co-operation in staff development by providing pump priming support for institutional units or for a national association/network of professionals involved. Another approach is to establish a staff development unit at national level, preferably with the backing of the national organisation of vice chancellors/rectors, to support universitiesí units and act as a forum for the discussion of staff development policies and mechanisms for collaboration. Ensuring that institutions have an adequate advisory and support service is a proper national function. 

For international agencies and donors there are various options for support. The idea of continuing international Staff Development Networks has already been mentioned, but this assumes that countries and institutions are already committed to the idea of staff development. There may be an opinion-forming and educational function before this, in which agencies such as UNESCO or IIEP could run workshops for national policy makers in higher education on the issue of encouraging institutional staff development. Other possible interventions would be: 

There are limitations to the support that can be given internationally since the key factor will always be the emphasis (and funding) which any national system wishes to give to its staff development activities. However, this should not deter agencies from encouraging international collaboration in the design and delivery of such programmes. (Davies, 1996).


Questions to be answered concerning Future Action 



1. How can one encourage staff within institutions to push for staff development to be provided?


2. What kind of actions are trade union bodies taking to facilitate more staff development initiatives? Is there any way this can be enhanced by national or international support networks?


3. How much should institutions invest in staff development? How can they be helped to give it the proper priority and find funding for this?


4. What else should institutions do to promote effective staff development activities?


5. How can institutional leaders promote a culture where staff development is seen as essential and is welcomed?


6. What role can distance learning solutions play in meeting the need for staff development of all kinds?


7. Is there anything that national buffer bodies or governments should do to help or should they leave it to institutions?


8. How should international bodies and agencies help countries with small or under resourced higher education systems?


9. Can staff development networks operate effectively on the basis of member subscriptions without external funding or will they always need support?


10. What are the core competencies needed by a member of teaching staff (see section 3)? How much specialisation should be encouraged?





Berendt, Dr Brigitte (1994). Higher Education Teaching Development Networks with regard to the European Network on Staff Development in Higher Education. in UNESCO (Eds.) Higher Education Staff Development Directions for the 21st Century. Paris.


Davies, Professor John L (1996). Higher Education Management Training and Development. Quality Indicators. New Papers in Higher Education Studies and Research no 18. UNESCO. Paris.


Dearing, Sir Ron (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society. Report of the National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education. HMSO. London


Gordon, Professor George and Partington, Dr Patricia (1996). Emerging Agendas and Frameworks for Staff Development. Tertiary Education and Management, Vol 2, No 1 pp. 62-75.


Mukherjee, Hena and Singh, Jasbir (1993). Staff Development Approaches in Higher Education: Learning from Experience. London. Commonwealth Secretariat.


World Bank (1994). Higher Education: The Lessons of Experience. Washington DC.


Saint, Dr William (1992). Universities in Africa. Strategies for Stabilization and Revitalisation. World Bank. Washington DC.


UNESCO (1997). Recommendation concerning Higher Education Teaching Personnel. Passed at the 29th Session, November 1997. Paris.