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TMCNet:  The Critical Choice for Nigerian University - Muddling Through or Establishing a University Records Management Programme

[September 01, 2014]

The Critical Choice for Nigerian University - Muddling Through or Establishing a University Records Management Programme

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Professor Gabriel Olubunmi Alegbeleye, of the Department of Information Resources Management, Babcock Business School, Babcock University, llisan -Remo, Ogun State here canvasses that records management should be seen as an important corporate responsibility and given the appropriate level of priority and authority by all knowledge-based institutions.


Preamble: The concept of "muddling through" caught my fancy when some of my colleagues were deliberating on how to deal with the poor management of records at our public institutions. We drew inspiration from the work of Charles Lindblom (1959) who came out with a classic article titled: 'the science of muddling through'. In this classic paper, Lindblom argued that the United State executive bureaucracy used limited policy analysis due partly to inadequate information obtainable from records. In other words, decision - making is flawed because often it is based on a much limited range of information and analysis. It is the inadequate data for planning purposes in Nigeria that led Stopler (1996) to produce his classic work titled: Planning without Facts. The situation has hardly changed as newspapers still carry disconcerting information on the inadequacy of data and information for planning purposes. The assumption we are making here is that improving structure, organization and functions of information system (of which libraries, archives and records- keeping are important parts) accurate, timely and relevant information can be obtained for planning purposes.

Records and Records Management: Recorded information is a strategic asset that makes significant contribution to an organization's objectives of efficiency and effectiveness. Records also form an organization's collective memory. A record is the final statement about a transaction or business process. Once declared, it must remain unaltered across time, no matter how many times it is recalled for use. ISO 15489 defines a record as information created, received and maintained as evidence by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business. 'Archives' which are also related to records are records are records which though appraisal have been found to have continuing value for the organization and have therefore been preserved for that purpose.

The goal for records management is that the records must be managed and maintained in such a way that it: Meets all internal business needs; Defends the institution and its people against external demands Is compliant with all regulatory and statutory requirements; Is capable of providing primary and secondary evidence of transaction or business process which is admissible in court of law; Is kept and maintained/ stored in the most economical way; And finally , is disposed of in a way which is auditable and ; Meets all environmental and other requirements.

Key drivers behinds the introduction of records managements Universities The following could be regarded as the key drivers behind the introduction of records management in a university environment.

These include Business Efficiency and Space.

On Regulatory requirements: the new Freedom Of Information Act 2011, has created general rights of access to recorded information. But this is yet to be fully appreciated in our universities.

Electronic Records Management: Although many parts of our universities still have a paper - based record culture, administrative records and teaching materials are almost invariably "born digital" and will exist in a wide variety of electronic formats. Managing and preserving this information electronically will reduce the need for physical storage and ensures that information created electronically. However, electronic records require earlier intervention and more pro-active management than paper format material.

Business Continuity: several disasters especially flood and fires occurring in our universities and nearby institutions have underscored the need for disaster planning.

Heritage: Many of our universities have no systematic attempt to preserve or exploit their corporate archives. The universities' historical records not only have value as a scholarly resource, they also have largely untapped potential to support marketing, fundraising and alumni relations.

The Freedom of Information Act and Implications for Managing Public Records in Nigeria The earliest Freedom of information Act dates back to 1766 when Sweden passed the FOI Act. Other countries followed suit As at March 2012, 93 countries have adopted FOI Acts of varying degrees of quality. Ten African countries now have FOI Acts enacted in their countries.

Reasons for widespread and Global Demand for FOI Act The following reasons have been adduced for the popularity of the FOI Act: It promotes transparency and accountability It reduces corruption It improves services delivery and proper government functioning It promotes access to services/entitlements It promotes political participation It strengthens press freedom It stimulates economic growth.

Nature of Nigerian Universities and the role of records management in their administration We can hardly discuss universities without making reference to their origin in medieval times. Consider the words we use on our campuses today; tuition, classes, courses, lectures, faculty, students, administration , chancellor, dean, professor, fees assignments, dormitory, requirements, examinations, texts, grades, diploma, graduate, convocation, and so forth.

All the word are derived for Latin almost unchanged from their medieval origins. But the earliest universities e.g. Bologna (Italy) Paris (France) had very simple administrative structures. Indeed, these universities started when groups of lectures (master) banded together to form unions for the purpose of pressing home their legitimate demands especially for protection. Formal administrative systems came much later in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when student numbers expanded and curricula exploded. In Nigeria, the first known higher education of university status was the University College Ibadan established in 1948. It was an affiliate of the University of London and was the outcome of the Elliot commission of 1943. On the eve of Nigeria's independence in 1959, the Ashby Commission recommended the establishment of higher institutions for the training of manpower that will replace the expatriates after independence.

The records life cycle: Central to the management of institutional records generally is the concept of the life cycle of records. The life of a record goes through phases starting from when it is created or received by the Agency, through to its use, maintenance and temporary storage before finally being destroyed or archived permanently.

Creation: The first phase of the Records Life Cycle involves records being created, collected or received through the daily transactions of the Business Unit or Department and can include printed reports, emails or even phone messages, documents that detail the functions, policies, decisions or procedures of the agency.

Maintenance & Use: The next phase of the life cycle is the maintenance and use of the record. This can include filing, retrieving, Use, duplication, printing dissemination, release or exchange of the information in the record.

Disposition: At the disposition phase records are assessed to determine their retention value using General Disposal Schedules or Records Disposal Schedules.

This leads to either the preservation or destruction of the record.

Preservation: when a record has been determined to be of permanent value to the Organization, then it is transferred to the Archives for permanent archiving and preservation.

Temporary Storage & Destruction: If a record still has ongoing value to the organization it will be temporarily stored either onsite in the administrative office of use or offsite with appropriate approval.

These are records that are important and crucial to the recovery of the organization from a disaster. At the appropriate time, records due for destruction should be destroyed promptly and appropriately. Records continuing value should identified through appraisal and appropriately stored. In order to implement a records management programme, the following steps suggested: One of the major tasks in institutionalizing records management is convincing senior management of the importance of records management to the institution. This may not be difficult if due cognizance is given to the major drivers of records and information management already referred to.

Recognition of records management as an important corporate responsibility and giving it the appropriate level of priority and authority.

Assign overall line management responsibility for records management to a senior member of the management team.

Commission an information audit of existing records and information and structures within the institution.

Develop an information and records management strategy for the institution which ensures that there is an integrated approach to records management, freedom of information Act, management functions and procedures. Alternatively, ensure close practical liaison between them. In some cases, records and information management bay be seen as part of a wider information management strategy.

Appoint or train a person to turn the strategy into detailed policy for the institution and give them sufficient seniority to be credible throughout the institution.

The role of the records management/archivist is critical and should be spelt out: He is responsible for: Records creation Filing and classification or the development of the file plan Retention and disposition schedules Storage and maintenance of records in all formats.

Final disposition of records - historical archives or destruction of records.

Establishing of a code of practice and legislation. With the steps suggested above, records management will become entrenched in our institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.

Copyright Daily Independent. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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