ROBERT LYTLE, managing director of EY-Pathenon, shed some light on how Erenst & Young (EY) has contributed towards the Vision 2030 and National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 in the country. He stated, at EY, we are doing our part to help drive growth and positively impact businesses across the Kingdom by advising clients on how to best align their strategies and implementation to Vision 2030, during a wide ranging interview with Saudi Gazette. Here are the excerpts:
SG: So can you shed some light, like in terms of youth development and the women empowerment happening in this part of the world? Also, the reason you have come to Riyadh and what you spoke in today’s event?
Lytle: The reason I came here was to discuss the concept of autonomous universities. If you look around the world where there are high performing university systems, they tend to be unique systems that have a level of autonomy for individual universities. We presented some thoughts on global benchmarking and extracted some perspectives on what an autonomous university might look like, and what are some of the considerations would be to that direction. I think the autonomous university is in line with the Vision 2030, which is in line with the demographic trends in line with the region, which complement the change in the governance structures as well in terms of moving towards non-government controlled entities.
We looked at the three major pillars that we tend to find in an autonomous university.
• Financial independence: The ability of the university to sustain on itself. One way is by using grants through an application basis.
• Government structure: A government structure allows the university to make its own decision for itself and live by those decisions. It is misconstrued that universities that have to be autonomous have to be completely be independent from the government. Most public universities in the world have a strong governmental oversight, but it is more in monitoring the statutory and outcomes.
• Accountability systems: An autonomous university needs to consider its methodology of setting up accountability, which is very complex. Universities tend to have dozens of different bodies that provide accountability of their site.
You have government authorizers who grant statutes and legal ability to provide higher education. There is the accreditation association, a particularly self-participating to peer group.
SG: This is going to be a great support for the Saudi youth and women empowerment, which is an important part of Vision 2030. So how would you describe the challenges and the opportunities for the universities in Saudi Arabia?
Lytle: It is tough to transform from a government-controlled entity to an autonomous entity, whether the university is a health care system or a hospital or corporation — which is enormously complex. The change management touches so many constituents. When you go for a public good, whether it is a university or hospital, every constituent is very important.
In a university, the government owns it as well as the university leadership, faculty, community leaders and students. The question is always why and what good comes out of this change? We would assert that it is difficult to differentiate in a strong mannerism without an autonomy to choose a strategic decision and to allocate your resources behind it. That depends on whether I want to drive towards being a research institution in health and sciences, or a very stem-oriented institution, or maybe elite institution like Howard, which has a top education school.
SG: Do the autonomous universities have a plan to open up a branch in Saudi Arabia?
Lytle: I think the question is do the Saudi universities need to work towards being autonomous on their own? The question is the decision to move in that direction which has to be in line with the broader national strategic part of not having direct government control on all institutions. There are a lot of legal and regulatory things that will have to change. You have to change the financial structure. You have to give the university the control over its cost structure to make those decisions. You should also have an accountability mechanism.
SG: Why do you think the Saudi universities need to be autonomous? Would it make a big progress for them if they do so?
Lytle: I think so. It is my impression that Saudi Arabia has a strong desire to develop excellence in public institutions, be it hospitals, universities or large corporations, and I believe autonomous forces are required to drive that success. They seem to examine and experiment with those types of models, which can lead to long-term excellence.
SG: This trend would create many job opportunities in the Kingdom?
Lytle: Better education leads to better outcomes. The more the populous receives the education, and the better the education is, the more jobs are created. It will help in economic growth and stability.
SG: So during the session, how well was the feedback received and monitored from the audience?
Lytle: There were many questions in regards to change management, as to why we would want to do something like this. It is difficult and there are challenges involved. Also, there were several questions regarding the government structures. What if the university decides to go in that direction? What are the tweaks you would make to the strategic vision and are there direct impacts? — SG