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So-called target agreements have been employed in the German higher education system for more than 20 years. Although widespread use is made of this tool for managing universities, it is not yet being employed throughout the higher education system. In fact, around two-thirds of universities have experience with target agreements concluded between the university management and the institution’s faculties. Such agreements run for a period of around four years on average. These are the findings of a current survey of chancellors of German universities conducted by the CHE Centre for Higher Education.

So-called target agreements have been in use at German higher education institutions (HEIs) since the 2000s. The first part of the process involves the university management collaborating with an entity within the university, such as a faculty, to define and lay out goals to be achieved by that entity within a particular period. The faculty then seeks to implement the agreement and achieve the agreed targets; the degree of achievement of the targets is subsequently measured.

CHE Executive Director Frank Ziegele considers target agreements to be an effective tool for managing universities: “When used correctly, target agreements help universities to set priorities and to create a relationship of partnership between the university management and the institution’s faculties.” In the past, however, not much was known about the extent to which this management tool was employed.

A current survey of chancellors of German universities now shows that widespread use is made of target agreements, but the tool is by no means in place throughout the higher education system. Target agreements at German universities run for an average period of 3.9 years. The survey conducted by the CHE Centre for Higher Education also shows that target agreements differ considerably, depending on how they are used.

For example, nine out of ten German universities have, or had, a target agreement in place with their ministry of science. Target agreements between the university management and the institution’s faculties are also widely used. Around two-thirds of all university chancellors stated that they use, have used or intend to use such agreements in the future. This type of arrangement appears to be well established, given that the majority of such target agreements have been in place for more than five years.

Target agreements are equally prevalent in the context of professorial appointment procedures, and have already been, or are being, employed by four out of five universities. Thematic target agreements between the university management and decentralised units, or within the administration, are less common. The use of target agreements within a faculty remains uncharted territory for 90 per cent of HEIs. This is where the CHE authors see potential for the benefits of using this type of binding agreement at the decentralised levels of faculties and the administration.

“On the whole, universities that conclude general target agreements with their faculties make good use of their potential. Target agreements are flexible, and can be adapted according to their type and the needs of the university,” stated CHE Executive Director Frank Ziegele, summarising the results of the analysis. The creation of trust and commitment is considered by many stakeholders to be an important purpose of target agreements. CHE also praises the fact that universities evidently strike a good balance between the goals of the university management and those of the faculties, as well as the absence of targets being dictated from above.

Authors Melisande Riefler and Frank Ziegele see opportunities for improvement. These can be seized by formulating clearer goals, reducing the number of top-down specifications for specific measures, and ensuring greater transparency in the process. According to CHE, it would be desirable to make greater use of training and professional development on how to use target agreements.

About the publication

In January and February 2022, the chancellors of the 87 universities in Germany were invited to participate in an online survey on the topic of target agreements. The survey was completed by 40 universities, resulting in data from 46 per cent of all German universities. The CHE study was carried out in cooperation with the University Funding working group of the chancellors of universities in Germany, and taken up in DUZ Wissenschaft & Management (05/2022).The publication entitled “Stand der Zielvereinbarungen an deutschen Universitäten: Eine Erhebung zur Verwendung interner Zielvereinbarungen” (The state of target agreements at German universities: A survey on the use of internal target agreements) was written by Frank Ziegele and Melisande Riefler.