Purpose and Policy in Educational Institutions: Do we have the alignment right for an effective system?

Year: 2017

Author: Eglinton-Warner, Stephanie, Jerram, Cate, Palmer, Edward

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There is much talk and concern about increased 'Managerialsim' in the Australian and international education community across all sectors - schools, VET and Universities. Teachers and researchers, among others, report that policies and governance in their workplaces limit their capacity to do their job well, to fulfill their purpose. Educational institutions and politicians state that the purpose of education is 'quality teaching and learning' yet criteria used to measure and reward quality tend to focus on economic benefits rather than learning related outcomes (Marginson 2000, 2013; Marginson & Considine 2001). There are mixed and confusing messages about the purpose of education and how this purpose is facilitated by the policy environment at an institutional, systemic, compliance and government level.
An explicit connection between policy and purpose, and the role of the relationship in effective governance and leadership in any organisation is rarely explicitly addressed in academic literature. Purpose is often used interchangeably with vision or mission (Khalifa 2012). Where a relationship between purpose and policy is mentioned there is often little discussion on ensuring alignment between them. In relation to educational governance there tends to be an assumption of a shared understanding of purpose with little effort to be explicit or clear about what that is.
The aim of this research is to examine the relationship between policy and purpose in educational institutions more deeply and critically to facilitate important discussions for change.
This research looks at the literature to derive a consistent and clear definition of organisational purpose and consider the interrelationship of organisational policy and organisational purpose in educational institutions, primarily Universities. The research will consider not only academic papers and texts in management and organisational theory, but also policy documents and public communications of selected educational institutions, such as vision and mission statements, and websites.
The analysis will be informed by a Systems Thinking paradigm (Senge 2006; Meadows, 2008) and apply a Critical Management Theory methodology (McKenna & Peticca-Harris 2016; Clegg 2016) to critically deconstruct the operation of each organisation while also developing an understanding of the complex interrelationships of the composite elements of the organisations. The organisations and their relationships with the economic, social and cultural environments within which they operate (Macgilchrist & Van Hout 2011) must also be considered as critical elements of the system as a whole, as do the people who work in these organisations and their work.