Higher and Further Education in South Africa have increasingly had to adapt to the challenges of internationalisation and competition, with the result that the management of projects in the tertiary education sector has had to become more efficient and effective. In the South African developmental context, however, this emphasis on productivity is often perceived to run counter to people-centred goals of effecting change. In the latter approach to project management there is less concern with planning and control and more with the management of people. The role of the project manager is also substantially different from that in a more rigid corporate approach. The paper explores this apparent tension between the two approaches to the management of developmental projects and argues that the two need not necessarily be incompatible. The Collaborative Staff Development for Quality Teaching and Learning Project in the Free State is used as a case study to illustrate how the two approaches can be successfully balanced in practice. Attention is given to the practical implications of various aspects, such as communication channels, team-building, progress monitoring, and management of quality. This discussion is set against the background of regional, national and international inter-institutional collaboration.
The theme of this paper is centred around the principles of project management in the area of staff development at institutions of Higher and Further Education. Collaborative project work and cross-institutional partnerships underpin the principles of an expanded notion of staff development (White Paper on Higher Education, 1997:28).
The aims of this paper are to:
Culp and Smith (1992:1-6) distinguish between two approaches to project management, namely the structured approach and the person-centred approach. In the structured approach control of the project team is centralised. Measurement and documentation governed by well-defined rules and procedures are emphasised. The task of the manager is to coordinate activities and see to it that correct procedures are followed. Every project member has a detailed description of his/her role and resources and the purpose of these resources are clearly specified. The flow of information is regulated and reports are statistical in nature. The main disadvantage of this model lies in its limited capacity in dealing with institutional and broader political and global changes and the unpredictability of the human factor. In the person-centred approach, there is a clear definition of the project mission but the project manager does not dictate the roles of the team members. Flexibility, creativity and spontaneity are encouraged; information is allowed to flow freely; and decision-making is shared. Inspiration and motivation are regarded as forerunners of personal development (ownership through participation). Problems are solved informally and coordination seems to occur naturally. However, a person-centred approach taken to its extreme runs the risk of losing focus, becoming too democratic and consequently being ineffective.
In the Links Project the merits of both the structured- and the person-centred approach were combined into a holistic approach which enabled the project team to develop at its own pace, yet still meet targets and objectives. Although the project is divided into clearly demarcated phases with specific time frames (phase 1: needs analysis (March - April 1997); phase 2: training and implementation (May 1997 - October 1998); phase 3: evaluation and reporting of results (November 1998 - March 1999)) and certain procedures in terms of finance and reports have to be followed, allowance is made for participants to explore the unique context and human potential within their own institutions. Management is not seen as the single most important factor in the successful completion of the project. Rather, the Postcompulsory Education Staff Development Network of the Free State (operating informally since 1992) forms the backbone of the formal project structure.
From March to April 1997 the Network institutions  participated in a Needs Survey to sketch a picture of the problem situation regarding teaching and learning in the Higher and Further Education sectors. Methods used ranged from brainstorming exercises, semi-structured questionnaires and focus groups interviews to surveys and interviews with students. The following broad areas of development were identified:
|Leadership and management||Diversity|
|Staff induction (Hudson, 1997:5)||Research|
Defining project objectives
In the formulation of the objectives it is useful to start with the end result and plan backwards to the beginning, ensuring that the objectives are specific, manageable and built on consensus (Culp & Smith, 1992:164-165; Stallworthy & Kharbanda, 1983:11). The core aim of the Links Project relates to capacity-building among staff in the Network, i.e. staff development which should materialise through the implementation of the following six objectives:
Developing a project schedule involves working out how much time will be needed to meet the objectives and complete the tasks. The objectives and tasks can be refined by creating activity charts. Graphic expression has the advantage of demonstrating the interdependence of various tasks. Furthermore, it allows project leaders to recognise unrealistic estimates, thus helping them to put contingency plans in place. In the Links Project, a time line was firstly worked out for the overall phases. Secondly, objectives were scheduled according to quarters for 1997 and 1998 respectively. Thirdly, each sub-project had a specific timeline and target date of completion. Principles of scheduling were not applied rigidly, yet those involved felt that in the context of the people-centred underpinnings, the scheduling allowed for the anticipation of problems.
Resource planning, according to Human and Strachan (1997:47), involves:
Consolidation of the plan
The final stage of the planning phase involves finalising objectives, tasks, schedules and budget. This can be achieved by consolidating these elements into a well-integrated plan, with the inclusion of possible contingency plans. In the case of the Links Project "The Plan" was documented in the form of an official Agreement between Curtin University and the University of the Free State, and a booklet of sub-project proposals.
Effective communication, mostly by means of personal interaction and/or workshops, has enabled the project leaders to stay connected to the institutional (grassroots) activities. However, the constraints and risks are plentiful. Inexperienced leaders have to learn very quickly how to cope with the transition into management (Henderson et. al., 1991:29-46). These pressures are further increased due to the complexity and time-consuming nature of collaborative project leadership. In the case of the Links Project the situation was particularly complex, since the project not only had a regional and international focus, but also operated on a national scale by collaborating with South-African academic development and Higher Education associations and the Links Project in the Eastern Cape.
Nevertheless, much still needs to be done in the area of staff development in the Free State region. It was initially envisaged that these initiatives would become self-sustaining. While this is possible in the case of some of the participating institutions, it is doubtful whether the majority of the other institutions will be able to sustain the level of activity displayed over the last two years. Consolidation of capacity and skills still needs to take place.
Approaches to project management in Higher and Further Education have become increasingly complex in light of the trend towards regional and international collaboration. However, with these demands come also tremendous institutional and personal benefits in respect of opportunities for networking and building capacity.
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|Please cite as: Hudson, H. (1999). Collaborative project management: A case study of the Australia-South Africa Institutional Links Programme. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 167-172. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/hudson.html|