• July 19th, 2019
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Saga and the achievements of an academic institution


Prof Jairos Kangira

World-class universities such as the University of Oxford, University of Harvard, Cambridge University, University of Melbourne, University of Cape Town, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have extraordinary institutional sagas that have shaped their trajectories of academic excellence over the years.

To a novice, the word saga may seem confusing as it is normally associated with some horrible and distasteful events or happenings. Saga is often associated with something negative or scandalous. 

No, saga is not used in these senses when talking about institutional saga or organisational saga. 
The positive meaning the word saga has as I use it here is never thought of in most cases. In the term institutional saga, a saga is a story or narrative of an institution or an organisation that is initiated by either an individual or a group of people. A saga is something good; it is a story or a narrative that its believers strictly adhere to in pursuit of excellence, academic excellence in this case. An institutional saga is an ideology that unites its believers because the believers, players and stakeholders have shared and common beliefs about the institution, and they have values that revolve around excellence in their operations and actions. For a university as an organisation to succeed and achieve the prestige, it must have what has been termed a cadre of followers which rallies around the core values and beliefs of the institution which are couched on excellence. The initiators of a saga begin by setting values, beliefs and best practices for the organisation/university which the followers have to adhere to strictly for the common goal. The values and beliefs of universities and other organisations are usually spelt out in their mission and vision statements, and mottoes. The slogans or maxims of the institutions give a direction which the institutions follow, a direction that inspires everyone to achieve their best for the sake of the institutions. When an institution has developed a strong saga, all its members are expected to rally around the saga to propel the institution to greater heights. Newly recruited staff members are expected to follow the institution’s shared values and beliefs or else they have to leave the organisation because they cannot fit in it.

The high quality of tertiary education is one of the crucial forces for development in any country in this knowledge-based economy. Nations that have invested towards raising the standard of their tertiary education have succeeded in improving the standard of living of their citizens. 

While the quality of tertiary education depends on a number of factors – financial resources, availability of highly qualified and committed academics, training, state-of-the art equipment and infrastructure, among others – the organisational or institutional sagas of higher education institutions play a key role in both the quality of education and reputation of the institutions. The university creates what is called a faculty cadre of believers which protects the institution from newcomers who might want to derail the institution from its commitment of excellence. The alumni of the university and all its stakeholders assist in propagating its saga to the local and international communities. 

What universities should be careful about is that their sagas can be weakened or completely destroyed if the faculty cadre of believers weakens or leaves. Some universities in the region which had strong sagas are down on their knees due to socio-economic and political issues in their countries.  These universities were the jewels of Africa’s tertiary education.
Higher education institutions in Namibia need to do an introspection of their sagas and map out their trajectories into the future.  It is crucial to note that sagas are not developed overnight. The values and beliefs of the university must be shared by all academics and stakeholders for the institution to progress in the right direction. Academics, students and stakeholders should feel goaded by the desire for loyalty to their university; they must uphold all the values and beliefs of the institution. They become emotional about their allegiance to the saga of the institution; this affective aspect of the saga is what brings unity in its believers. 

The believers of the saga want to see the institution progress against all odds; those who cannot cope with the demands of the saga find themselves out of the system in one way or the other. The drivers of the sagas, who are usually senior academic staff who have gone through the mill of higher education and know what works and what does not work, provide guidance in the development of the saga.

A strong saga creates a strong bond between academics, alumni and stakeholders, and their institution of higher education. There is no doubt that institutional saga is key to the quality of education that higher education institutions provide. A strong cadre of followers is crucial in the development of academic excellence in a university.
*Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address:kjairos@gmail.com


New Era Reporter
2019-02-22 09:26:59 4 months ago

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