A new composition of the TalTech University Board began work in January of this year. However, the current system of governing and leading the university has been in effect for over five years. How is the university led and what are the decision lines like?
Gunnar Okk, Chairman of the University Board of TalTech
TalTech's current governance model is based on the most modern logic of leadership and governance in universities. According to this, the strategic leader and supervisory body of a university is its Board; the highest academic decision-making body is the Senate, which is responsible for study, research, and development activities. The Board instates a rector, who at his or her discretion puts together a Recorate to help him or her, to carry out strategic decisions made by the Board and daily executive management.
The two main principles of this governance model are that the majority of the University Board members are from outside of the university and that the Rector is appointed by the Board, not chosen by an electoral body comprised of the university's academic community. The purpose of these two principles is that the operation of the entire university, including research and teaching activities, is in correspondence with the needs of society and that the Rector has enough executive power to strategically lead the university in the direction determined by the Board.
In the context of TalTech, the University Board is not just an advisory body of the administration but is directly responsible for the strategic leadership and governance of the university at its highest level. In addition to setting development goals, the Board has the responsibility of governing the university in good practice, risk management, and auditing.
The first presumption of good governance practices is that it is clearly determined and communicated, who has the power to affect which processes happening in the organization, to direct resources, and who makes which decisions. A critical and the most important aspect of every board's work is the practical definition of its areas of activity and decision-making, first and foremost, the differentiation between levels of strategic and operative leadership.
This means that the Board monitors the activity of the university's administration but cannot intervene with the daily practical problems of leadership. In the case of TalTech, the Board also does not handle study, research, and development activities, and other academic questions, which belong within the competence of the Senate.
Members of the University Board of TalTech all have different backgrounds, beliefs, and work experiences. This kind of composition aims to complement each other and allow seeing things from different social, academic, economic, and cultural points of view.
Members of the Board have to have a good overview of the university's most important performance indicators and success criteria. The Rector and divisions or persons appointed by him or her prepare questions belonging within the competence of the Board for meetings. According to the Board's order of procedure, members of the Board have the right to information that is required to perform their tasks directly from vice-rectors or heads of responsibility. However, as a rule, this kind of activity should not take place without informing the Rector.
The Board's main form of work is meetings, where presentations are heard, discussions happen, regulations are issued within the Board's competence, and decisions are made. This year, ten meetings have already taken place, four of them virtual due to the state of emergency.
What to take, what to leave?
The University Board of TalTech has an audit committee and standing committees in a number of areas, formed accordingly with the order of procedure. The committees handle questions within their area and the Board's order of competence in depth. However, the external environment around us is constantly changing academically, economically, and politically. The Board has to hold a firm position on which changes to go along with. Informed and explained decisions need to be made about what are the new problems and areas which should be worked on next, and which activities will be knowingly discarded, even though this may be difficult for some people or cause certain (typically short-term) setbacks.
Strategy is mainly about making long-term choices. As the strategic leader of the university, the Board has to form clear standpoints on what are TalTech's strengths today and what should be invested in even more in the future. Consistent contribution to existing strengths should be the basis for the university's competitive ability in Estonia and elsewhere.
The Board's most important tasks during the upcoming period are mostly in connection with preparing the 2021-2025 development plan. According to the statute of the university, the Senate presents a draft of the university development plan for the Board to approve; the Rector ensures it is put together and presented to the Board for approval.
The current practice is that the Board discusses the strategic goals of the university's upcoming period and forms starting points of the new development plan within itself before the Rector and the Senate begin to draft the development plan. The new development plan should clearly bring out the university's strategic choices in the coming years and set specific frames for developments happening in all main areas of activity, including financial contribution.
Plans for the fall
According to current plans, the Board will phrase their basepoints for the development plan, priorities for the courses of action, and key indicators at the Board meeting on the 17th of September.
A joint discussion of the university's administration, the Senate, and the Board is planned to take place in Rakvere on 1.-2. of October, where preparation of the development plan and institutional accreditation and other questions of strategic development will be addressed.
The Board's discussion on the opportunities of financing the university and preparing the 2022-2025 budgetary strategy is planned for the 16th of October, the budgetary strategy should be confirmed on the 18th of December. The Board should give its final approval of the 2021-2025 development plan presented by the Senate at a meeting on the 19th of February 2021.
The Board, the Rector, and the Senate
Tallinn University of Technology is a public university, its governing bodies and their competence are prescribed by law. The university has autonomy and independence in the arrangement of its internal organization and management structure, dividing resources, hiring staff, as well as freedom of research and teaching activities.
In accordance with the law, the highest governing body of the university is its Board, who is responsible for the development of the university and ensures the fulfillment of its goals. The main development goals are set in the university development plan confirmed by the Board.
Most members of the Board are appointed by the Minister of Education and Research and members of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, who are not employees of the university. According to the statute of the university, members of the Board are not dependent in their decisions on the person or organization who appointed them and proceed in the work of the Board in good faith and based on their best judgement of the interests of the university as a whole.
The Board elects, appoints and, if needed, prematurely dismisses the Rector, who is the top leader of the university, independently forms his or her management organization and is held accountable by the Board. The main task of the Rector is to ensure the daily general management of the university and practical, sustainable organization of study, research, and development activities based on the university development plan, budgetary strategy, and budget approved by the Board.
The academic decision-making body of the university is the Senate consisting only of TalTech employees. The law also clearly determines the distribution of management tasks between the Board and the Senate. The Senate has the responsibility of study, research, and development activities and ensuring their high quality.