LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 42, No.1 - Spring 1996
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1996 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SELF-EDUCATIONAL APPROACH AT A LITHUANIAN UNIVERSITY
The case of the "Faculty of Administration,
Kaunas University of Technology"
Kaunas University of Technology
Lithuania is currently experiencing a difficult period in its social and economic development. The transition from a planned to a market economy has brought many new tasks and challenges to every sphere of life, form personal to business, to academics, and more. In order to successfully achieve this transition, we need to not only work hard but also to specify our goals and develop intelligently-based plans for achieving them. How should we organize our work in every sphere? What should we do differently? What kind of organization would we create in order to fulfill our wishes and goals? Should we improve our skills in management, leadership, and human resource management?
An article in a recent edition of Fortune magazine suggests an answer: "Forget your tired old ideas about leadership. The most successful corporation of the 1990s will be something called a learning organization." As Arie De Geus, head of Planning for Royal Dutch/Shell, said; "The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization." [1, p. 4] In "the Learning Company: A Strategy for Sustainable Development" [2, p. 1], authors M. Pedler, J. Burgoyne and T. Boy-dell describe such organization in following way" "A learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all it's members and continuously transforms itself".
The authors use the term "Learning Company" rather than "Learning Organization" because they consider the first term to be broader than the second. As they explain, a Company includes members engaged in a common action, doing things "in company", while "Organization" is a more mechanical word, "sounding somewhat abstract and lifeless" [2, p. 1]. However, some other authors ]3, p. 783] consider an organization to be "a group of people working together to attain common goals" (Moorhead, Griffin). The term "Organization" means not only the structure of a group but also its functioning, emphasizing persons who act together to pursue common goals. In this respect an Organization is even more than a Company because it shows the direction of people's action in pursuing goals. This notion is corroborated by T.J. Peters and R.H. Waterman, who point out that excellent companies are learning organizations .
To establish these types of companies in Lithuania, it is necessary to change the minds of people and to educate new specialists with innovative thinking and a new point of view concerning today's situation. In order to prepare them to work in our new conditions, it is necessary to make some changes in our educational system as well. This is especially important in the field of higher education.
Higher education in Lithuania, like in all post-socialist countries, is under an intensive reform process that seeks to implement the main principles of contemporary higher education:
a. Integration of science and studies.
b. Democracy: academic freedom and cooperative teacher-student relations; opportunities for a student to follow an individual study program (this is linked to the flexibility of the curriculum).
c. Integration into the world-wide academic community (first of all, meaning comparability of degrees and study programs).
This official policy creates favorable conditions for reform in Lithuanian universities. Based on this policy and on the ideas mentioned above, it is necessary to examine universities in the process of reform from the point of view of the self-educational organization. We use the term "self-educational" instead of "learning" to express not only the learning aspect but the educational nature of these institutions.
The author uses the main characteristics of a Learning Company formulated by M. Pedler, J. Burgoyne and T. Boydell [2, pp. 18-24] and adapted by P. Jucevičienë  to the universities. These 11 characteristics include:
1. The learning approach to strategy means that university policy and strategy formation, together with implementation, evaluation and improvement, are structured as a learning process of their members. Managerial acts are seen as conscious experiments. Business plans are evolved and modified as we go along.
2. Participative policy making means that all members take part in policy and strategy formation; policies are significantly influenced by the views of all members of the university, not just those at the top management level; appraisal and career planning discussions often generate visions that contribute to strategy and policy.
3. Informing ensures that information is used for real understanding of variation in a system, and interprets data accordingly; each person can get feedback on how his (her) department is doing at any time; information technology is used to create databases and communication systems that help everyone to understand what is happening and to make appropriate decisions.
4. Reward flexibility preconditions the increased degree of members' participation; it requires flexible working patterns that allow people to make different contributions and draw different rewards; all the members are involved in determining the nature of reward systems, the basic values of which are explored and shared.
5. Internal exchange points out the aspect of market economy assisting learning: individuals, teachers and specialists, groups, departments and divisions engage in constant dialogue — an exchange of information on expectations, negotiating, contracting and giving feedback on curriculum, courses, study programs, research; departments communicate freely and candidly with each other, open to challenge, ready to give help; they act on their own initiatives, each department strives to satisfy its internal customers and remains aware of the needs of the whole university as well as its faculties.
6. Formative accounting and control is a particular case of informing: it includes systems of accounting, budgeting and reporting structured to assist learning; everyone feels that his (her) department is responsible for its own resources; the financial system encourages faculties, departments and individuals to take risks and to do more and better.
7. Enabling structures create opportunities for staff and its academic work development: roles and careers are flexibly structured to allow for experimentation, growth and adaptation; appraisals are geared more to learning and developing than reward and punishment; departments have rules and procedures that can be frequently changed after discussions; departmental and other units are seen as temporary structures that can be altered.
8. Staff as environmental scanners — implies that all members of a university who have contact with external environment collect information for their organization from outside; there are systems and procedures for receiving, collating and sharing information from outside the university.
9. Inter-company learning means sharing in investment research and development, job exchange, and joint training. One can acquire knowledge accumulated at other departments, universities or various organizations and structures.
10. Self-educational climate forms the general atmosphere of continuous improvement and a constant endeavor to learn and perform better; the members find time to question their own practices and to analyze and discuss their experiences; differences of all sorts are recognized and positively valued as essential to learning and creativity.
11. Self-development opportunities for all ensure that self-development resources are available to all members, who have their own self-development budget and plans.
These eleven characteristics enable us to define a university in terms of a Self-Educational Organization as well as to research its strategy realization .
Because the author is working at the top position of management at the Faculty of Administration (Kaunas University of Technology) it was possible for him to analyze this faculty and how it could fit the characteristics mentioned above. Kaunas University of Technology is one of the largest Universities in Lithuania (7625 students, 3267 members of the staff) and one of the most advanced in the process of reforming the Lithuanian higher education system. The Faculty of Administration is the youngest Faculty at the Kaunas University of Technology (established in 1990) and has been the quickest in its development compared with other faculties. The Faculty has study programs at undergraduate and graduate levels in Business Administration, Public Administration, Educational Science (focused on Educational Management).
It is important for the Faculty of Administration and for the University as a whole, to implement the main characteristics of a Learning Company. Specific policy recommendations can help the Faculty of Administration successfully apply the learning approach and reap its benefits. The recommendations made below draw on examples from Aalborg University (Denmark). The author spent one month studying the Aalborg education system, which employs the learning approach. Each of the recommendations is linked with one or more characteristics of a "a learning company". Many of the recommendations also promote the achievement of additional important goals.
The first recommendation would be to implement a project-centered educational program at the Faculty of Administration. This new approach to higher education has been developed at Aalborg University (Denmark). It is aimed at improving the graduates' ability to be successful in industry and at reducing the waste in educational systems. The project-based educational system has taught Aalborg students how to integrate various subject matters in the solution of complex problems. A new type of educator directs students in their project work and critically evaluates their work as individuals and as team members. The success of the approach is indicated by the tripling of the enrollments in 15 years, suggesting students' preferences for this approach, and by the adoption of this system in another nation .
Each semester a term project is used to integrate the course and laboratory work and to teach students how to work effectively in groups in order to solve complex problems. These problems involve environmental, social, economic, political, and legal as well as technical issues. Problems are real problems companies are facing. Students working on the projects help companies solve their problems.
The studies are centered on a project theme for the semester. Lecture courses, study courses, and laboratory work for that semester are to be utilized in the analysis and / or solution of the problem selected by the project team. The project themes are determined by Study Boards, which are elected yearly and contain equal numbers of students and faculty members .
The implementation of this project-based education promotes the following characteristics of organizational learning:
— reward flexibility (through student efforts at the company where their project is based, students can increase their rewards, e. g. future job opportunities at those firms)
— internal exchange (exchange of information between students, advisers, representatives of the private companies)
— inter-company learning (through job exchange and joint training)
— self-educational climate (the "distance" between students and professors decreases, helping them to learn and perform better)
— self-development opportunities for all (the opportunity to develop lasting relations with firms where projects are based; promotion of self-development skills through project-based learning)
It would also have the following additional benefits:
— reduce the waste caused by terminated studies, prolonged studies and unnecessary course requirements.
— increase students' self-confidence, communication skills, creativity, flexibility, and ability to work in teams.
— emphasize the total problem solution; that is, the social, legal, environmental, political, economic, and technological aspects of the problem.
The author is teaching at the Faculty of Administration and is using the "case" method. His experiences have shown that students do not know how to work effectively in teams and to cooperatively share in a team's labor. In addition, graduates of Kaunas University of Technology report that it takes 1-2 years until they establish themselves in companies and understand how to solve complex practical problems. The project-based method would generate improvements in each of these areas.
This project-centered program affects not only students but also faculty members. It provides faculty members with the opportunity to improve their leadership abilities by directing students in the integration of various subjects as they solve complex interdisciplinary problems. In addition, the projects occasionally involve new topics for faculty advisors and they must keep up with students in learning the new material. Further, some projects may generate opportunities for paid research or consulting as well as additional projects, as experienced at Aalborg University. This would help to alleviate the financial difficulties faced by Faculty staff, whose salaries are minimal. It would also help motivate faculty staff to increase their skills and knowledge. We believe this approach would also encourage faculty to cooperate among themselves in order to acquire needed knowledge in various subjects and research areas. Finally, student involvement in the selection of team members and faculty advisors can motivate faculty to improve their professional skills, as indicated by experience at Aalborg University.
This project-centered method would also increase faculty-student interaction because of the close contact required by the semester project. This is important because it would help break the old tradition established in secondary school, where the teacher is not seen as an older colleague but as a more distant instrument of control. This attitude fails to promote studying and high performance.
The second recommendation for the Faculty of Administration at KTU is to extend democracy through democratic administration. As used at Aalborg University, Chairs are elected yearly. Not only faculty but also students and staff have voting input on the selection process. Similar elections are used to determine other positions, such as Rector and Vice-Rectors. In addition, students as well as faculty participate in policy making and in forming the strategy of the faculty or university. This helps to motivate them to be more responsible for their activities. It also promotes organizational learning by providing the opportunity to make changes and improvements in strategy formation (Learning approach to strategy). All faculty members and students who are interested can take part in policy and strategy formation (participative policy making). This also provides wider understanding of resources available to the university (Formative accounting and control). In addition, the closer relations that may be established by teachers, technical-administrative personnel and students as they meet together over time would create a better climate in which to learn and increase performance (self-educational climate).
The third recommendation is to establish the Training Center for Professional Development. To accomplish this, the Faculty of Administration plans to establish a Joint Lithuanian / Norwegian company together with the Norwegian School of Management. The Center would help to develop the professional skills of faculty members at the Faculty of Administration. Following training, faculty members would work in this Center conducting seminars and improving the knowledge and skills of personnel in private businesses, industry and civil service. Payment for the services of faculty members will add to their wages and thus help to retain their employment at the Faculty of Administration. Participation in the Training Center's programs will assist Faculty members in developing the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully implement the project-based program at Faculty of Administration.
At the present moment, professors from the Norwegian School of Management are working with a number of faculty members to prepare them to design and conduct courses to be offered at the Training Center. The purpose of this project is to develop and assist Faculty of Administration training courses for commercial and civil service personnel. It is expected, in addition, that university teachers will find the principles of training course design and conduct relevant research for the design and delivery of other educational programs, including project-based learning.
The implementation of this third recommendation would promote such characteristics of organizational learning as reward flexibility, internal exchange, staff as environmental scanners, inter-company learning, a self-educational climate, self-development opportunities for all, and others.
Each of the recommendations discussed above would advance the Faculty of Administration as well as the Kaunas University of Technology. As this paper has shown, the development of project-based learning, democratic administration, and the Training Center for Professional Development would promote the characteristics of the Learning Company. In the long run these recommendations will not only advance the Faculty and its university but will also assist Lithuania in successfully managing its transition to market economy and democracy.
Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline. The Art and Practice of
the Learning Organization. Century Business, 1991.
Pedler Mike, Burgoyne John and Boydell Tom, The Learning Company: a Strategy for Sustainable Development, Mc Graw-Hill Book Company, 1991, 213 p.
Moorhead Gr. and Griffin R.W., Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations, 3rd ed., Hough-ton Mifflin Company, 1992, p. 690.
Peters, T. J. and Waterman R. H., In Search of Excellence, Harper and Row, 1982.
Jucevičienë, P., Demand for a Self-Educational Organization Strategy at Lithuanian Universities, Lund University, 1994.
Robert C. Creese and Erik Pedersen. Project-based Education at Aalborg University, Trout Lodge Potosi, Missouri, August 5-10,1990, pp. 51-61.