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Political governance and (account)ability of private universities in developing countries

Mohammad Nurunnabi (Department of Accounting, College of Business Administration, Prince Sultan University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 8 August 2016




Due to scarcity of research in governance and accountability in private higher education in developing countries, the purpose of this paper is to explore the tensions surrounding good governance in legitimizing accountability in private universities in developing countries with reference to Bangladesh.


Mixed methods are employed: a quantitative survey of 1,576 students from all 79 private universities; qualitative interviews with 23 stakeholders; and policy documents including the Private University Acts, the World Bank Report and newspapers (1992-2015) were evaluated. The objectives of these mixed methods in this study are juxtaposed and generate complementary insights that together create a bigger picture surrounding governance and accountability issues.


Using Clark's (1983) triangle model (i.e. state control, academic oligarchy, and market forces together with the external influence of donors and boards of trustees as internal governance) and new institutional theory (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), the major contributions of this study are explaining the root causes of the poor governance of private universities through three related factors: the substantial political power and autonomy held by boards of trustees; a lack of enforcement of Private University Act; and a lack of coordination among stakeholders. The coercive power of the state becomes powerless since the board of trustees ultimately enjoys political power and “does whatever it can.” The lack of coordination of the academic oligarchy (e.g. professors and academics) and market forces (represented by students) by the board of trustees creates a paradox of governance and hence a decoupling of formal policies and actual practice.

Practical implications

The findings have major policy implications for local and international policymakers for improving good governance in private universities in developing countries.


The novelty of the study's findings represents an initial effort to understand the complex and persistent phenomenon of prolonged poor governance of private universities in developing countries, which is largely neglected in the literature. This will undoubtedly contribute to literature and policy implications.



The author gratefully acknowldges the Editor, Dr Sandra van Thiel, two anonymous reviewers, and the participants of the study. The author also acknowledges sincere support from the Rector (Dr Ahmed S. Yamani), Prince Sultan University, Saudi Arabia.


Nurunnabi, M. (2016), "Political governance and (account)ability of private universities in developing countries", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 29 No. 6, pp. 522-544.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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