A report published last year in the United Kingdom described the radical changes affecting tertiary education in many parts of the world today as an ‘avalanche’. But the rupture factors that are transforming the tertiary education landscape are not that recent. I believe that the avalanche started eleven years ago, when Shanghai Jiao Tong University published the first Academic Ranking of World Universities, widely known today as the famous—some would rather say infamous—Shanghai ranking.

For the first time, all over the world, university leaders, policy-makers, employers, students and the public were provided with a hit parade of ‘world-class universities’.

Notwithstanding their methodological limitations, the Shanghai ranking and the various international rankings that have followed (Times Higher Education, Leiden University, QS, Webometrics, Taiwan HEEACT’s ranking of scientific papers, etc.), have put the relative performance of universities at the center of public debates, and even in the realm of political priorities in some countries.

For example, when Vladimir Putin was reelected as president of the Russian Federation in 2012, he declared in his first official speech that he wanted to see at least five Russian universities in the global top 50 within five years. Sure enough, the Minister of Education announced a new Excellence Initiative within a few months, following the example of countries such as France, Germany, South Korea and China, which have attempted to boost the standing of their elite universities through substantial additional resources.

In 1975, the Nigerian writer Nkem Nwankwo published a satirical novel entitled My Mercedes is Bigger Than Yours. Its title is an apt analogy for what university vice chancellors/presidents/rectors are going through today.

They are under constant pressure to prove that their university is doing everything possible to progress in the global ranking. While this can sometimes have a positive effect if it helps tertiary education institutions focus on improving further what they are good at, it can also induce obsessive behaviors and push them in the wrong direction.

For instance, some universities have appointed a ‘ranking officer’ to guide them in playing to the league tables. The global race to recruit top scientists and academics has led to bidding wars for talent in some cases. Perhaps most preoccupying is the mission drift resulting from giving undue priority to research and publications in prestigious journals, often at the expense of excellence and relevance in teaching and learning.

Excessive attention to the development of world-class universities as a source of national prestige can also have adverse consequences in terms of system-wide tertiary education policies, ranging from raising unreasonable expectations of a rapid rise in the rankings to creating dangerous distortions in resource allocation in favor of a few flagship institutions, to the detriment of the overall tertiary education system when additional resources are not available.

These unhealthy developments raise questions about the significance and contributions of world-class universities. To make an architectural analogy, is the tallest building of any country representative of housing conditions in that country? Is looking at the position of each university the most appropriate way of assessing the overall performance, utility and health of tertiary education systems?

For instance, does the strength of the US tertiary education system come essentially from the global dominance of the Ivy League universities? Or must we acknowledge and assess the importance of other features, such as the large community college sub-sector, the federal student aid program, a long tradition of outreach and retention programs, which are vital components in the tertiary education sector for promoting equal education opportunities and training the workforce that the US economy needs?

Defining academic excellence principally in reference to the position of universities in the global rankings is misleading and potentially dangerous in that it can distract attention from the priority areas of genuine impact.

When research output becomes the main yardstick for measuring the performance of tertiary education, other equally vital goals, such as learning quality, equality of opportunities, and the contribution of tertiary education institutions to local development, are at risk of being neglected.

The growing debate on measuring learning outcomes at the tertiary education level is testimony to the recognition that excellence is not only about achieving outstanding results with competitively selected outstanding students, but ought perhaps to be also measured in terms of the added value achieved by institutions in addressing the specific learning needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

In conclusion, the hype surrounding world-class institutions must be tempered to allow recognition of the contributions of the entire tertiary education system in promoting the most useful, most efficient, and highest quality opportunities that it can offer.

At the end of the day, world-class systems are not those that can boast the largest number of highly ranked universities. They are, instead, those that manage to develop and sustain a wide range of good quality and well articulated tertiary education institutions with distinctive missions, able to meet collectively the great variety of individual, community and national needs that characterize dynamic economies and healthy societies.

This article was originally published on the British website wonkhe on 9 July 2014. 

The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore.

Ferdinand Magellan (1520)

 For several decades, traditional human capital analysis challenged the need for public support of higher education on the grounds that graduates captured important private benefits—notably higher salaries and lower unemployment—that should not be subsidized by taxpayers.  Many multilateral and bilateral donor agencies, influenced by this argument, focused their support on basic education rather than investing in the expansion and improvement of higher education systems in developing countries.

In the 1990s, however, a growing body of research demonstrated the need to go beyond rate-of-return analysis to measure the value of higher education as an important pillar of sustainable development.  By focusing primarily on the private returns of government spending, rate-of-return analysis fails to capture broad social benefits accruing to society, that are important to recognize and measure.  These include research externalities, entrepreneurship, job creation, good economic and political governance, and the positive effects that a highly educated cadre of workers has on a nation’s health and social fabric.

Building on these findings, the path breaking 2000 report entitled Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise called for scaling up investment in higher education and research, as a key pillar to equip developing countries with the knowledge and qualified manpower needed to fight poverty and accelerate economic growth.  Written by a distinguished group of independent experts with financial support from several donor agencies, the report had an important impact at three levels.  First, it helped turn around donor policies in favor of greater attention to higher education in partner countries.  Second, it unleashed many positive reform initiatives in the developing countries themselves.  Third it paved the way for increased South-South networking and collaborative activities.

Almost fifteen years later, the world of higher education has changed significantly.  Developing countries have seen tremendous enrollment growth, especially in the private sector.  In Europe, the Bologna process has led to the creation of a “higher education space” facilitating the circulation of students and academics.  Asian nations have been at the forefront of efforts to place higher education at the center of their economic development strategies.

Higher education finds itself at another crossroad today, as national systems seem to be pulled in several directions by a combination of factors bringing about both opportunities and challenges at the same time.  The forces exercising new pressures on higher education can be divided into three groups: crisis factors, stimulation factors, and rupture factors.

The crisis factors are the direct results of the economic and financial crisis that started in 2008.  Many governments have significantly cut their higher education budget while, at the same time, households have fewer resources to allocate to education expenditures.  Furthermore, in many countries, the slowing down of the economy has led to rising graduate unemployment.

Compounding these elements of crisis are rupture factors such as those pointed out in a 2013 report proposing the image of “an avalanche” to describe the radical changes affecting how higher education institutions will be conducting their teaching and research activities in the future.  Among these rupture factors are (i) technological innovations such as flipped classrooms and other strategies for more interactive learning, (ii) mass online open courses (MOOCS) reaching hundred of thousands of students all over the world, (iii) increased competition from for-profit and corporate universities that provide professional qualifications closely linked to labor market needs, and (iv) new accountability modalities like the global rankings, that allow for different kinds of comparisons of the performance of universities across all continents.

Finally, higher education institutions are exposed to stimulation factors in the few countries that, notwithstanding the financial crisis, have continued to give priority to the development of their knowledge economy by protecting their higher education budget.  Several governments have even launched “excellence initiatives” translating into a large influx of additional resources for their nation’s leading universities—for example China, Denmark, France, Germany, Russia and South Korea—, often under the influence of the global rankings.

How these three sets of factors play out in each country determines the new “perils” and “promises” likely to shape the development of higher education in the years to come.

 

This article was first published in the Bulletin (Issue 182, July 2014), the magazine of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).

www.acu.ac.uk

Guest blogger Laura Howard, EAIE vice-president

At the October 2013 Conference of the Americas on internationalization (CAIE), the audience listening to the plenary moderated by Francisco Marmolejo, Coordinator of Higher Education at the World Bank, was intrigued when Jamil Salmi, specialist in higher education, began his answer to the question of why Latin American universities are not well represented in rankings by talking about football.

So what is the connection?

Salmi pointed out that the world’s top football teams have international players. Many also have international coaches or managers (Ancelotti in Real Madrid, Mourinho in Chelsea), even in the case of the national selection of some countries (Capello as the England coach). In their search for the best players, and for the right trainer, they look beyond their own backyard.

In Latin American universities, however, it is seldom the case that a university is led by a rector/president from another country – in some cases it is even expressly prohibited by law. This reflects a mindset that does not include a global perspective and therefore does not consider international candidates. It asks for a change of attitude, the willingness to look beyond national borders in the search for quality and excellence, to find the person with the right skill set. And this need is not limited to Latin America. This is not to say, by any means, that excellent candidates cannot be found on home ground. However, a university that appoints a rector from another country is giving a clear signal that it is embracing internationalisation, going beyond the search for international students and academic staff right to the institution’s strategic centre, preparing itself internally for change. This comment brought to mind two thoughts:

The International Relations Office: the Messi and the Torres of the university

The first one concerns an issue that has been discussed by many EAIE members over the years. The International Relations Offices of our universities are often home to international staff, usually in a much higher percentage than in other areas of university administration and management. It would be interesting to explore and attempt to measure the specific contribution made by these professionals to the internationalisation process of their universities. They are the international players in our teams: the Messi and the Torres. And the added value they provide can serve as an example, as many of their skills would be transferrable to other aspects of university administration in an institution that embraces comprehensive internationalisation.

Mobility in football vs. higher education

The second concerns another advantage enjoyed by football teams – the ease with which international players can cross borders. Entry visas do not appear to be an issue when a team wants to sign up a new international player; they often enjoy special fiscal privileges and in some cases even citizenship to the country which wants them on their team is granted. Yet in the field of education, most higher education institutions struggle to get the necessary support for a coherent inter-ministerial policy which facilitates the entry of international students and staff – who as well as being a source of finance can contribute to the internationalisation process, and can help to improve the institution’s place in the rankings.

It seems that the internationalisation of football is of greater strategic importance in many countries than the internationalisation of higher education. Lots of food for thought. What is the situation in your country?

PS.  Update from Jamil Salmi: at the 2014 soccer world cup in Brazil, half of the 32 competing teams have a foreign coach…

PS2. This blog was first posted on the EAIE website on 28 October 2013.

A 2013 report published in the United Kingdom proposed the image of “an avalanche” to describe the radical changes affecting tertiary education in many parts of the world (Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and S. Rizvi, 2013).  Indeed, a growing number of rupture factors are at play in transforming the ecosystem in which tertiary education institutions are operating, drastically influencing how they perform their teaching and research functions.  Among these rupture factors are technological innovations such as flipped classrooms for interactive learning, mass online open courses (MOOCS) reaching hundred of thousands of students all over the world, new forms of competition from for-profit and corporate universities that provide professional qualifications closely linked to labor market needs, and new accountability modalities like the global rankings, which allow to measure and compare the performance of universities across all continents.

Despite their methodological weaknesses, the rankings are the principal tool that has helped identify the most outstanding universities in the world with objective criteria, and that has allowed to identify the main factors that explain their success. Governance, in particular, has come out as one of the key determinants of high performance universities.

In the past decade, many countries have undertaken significant reforms to modernize the regulatory framework in which their tertiary education institutions operate, moving from a centralized control model to a decentralized system where universities enjoy substantial autonomy. Autonomous universities are characterized by the existence of an independent board with a majority of representatives of external stakeholders, professional criteria and procedures for the selection of the leadership team, and flexible human resource rules and policies for the recruitment and retention of staff and the determination of salaries.

However, universities in the Ibero-American world are not at the forefront of these reforms, quite the opposite. They tend to suffer from serious limitations because of their populist traditions, characterized by the democratic election of university presidents or rectors by the entire academic community, high levels of inbreeding, and a lack of international outlook, as can be seen in Spain and most of Latin America.

In the Spanish case, the absence of internationally recognized universities and the low scientific output of the country is as source of concern, as pointed out by a recent study prepared by a group of leading academics at the request of the Spanish government. No Spanish university appears among the top 200 universities in the world in the latest Shanghai ranking of Shanghai, while other large European countries such as the UK, France or Germany or even small economies such as Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden have a strong presence in the group of top universities.

Of particular importance in improving the Spanish public university system is the need for reforming the composition and role of the governing bodies as well as the selection process of rectors and deans. The reality is that the current governance model supports the collective decision-making process that imposes the immediate interests of stakeholders over the academic excellence that society needs … the processes are always too long, complex and riddled with bureaucracy and inefficiencies (Report of the Expert Committee on the Reform of the Spanish University System, 2013).

In the second case, although Latin America has 8.5% of the world’s population and produces 8.7% of global GDP, its universities represent only 2.2% of the top 500 in the Shanghai ranking, less than 1.5% of the top 400 in the Times Higher Education rankings, and 2.6% of the top 500 universities in the bibliometric ranking of Leiden. The performance of Brazil and Mexico (respectively sixth and fourteenth economies in the world) compares poorly with the impressive achievements of small countries like Israel, with three universities among the top hundred in the world in the Shanghai ranking, or Netherlands with two universities. In both cases, these modest results can be attributed to the lack of high-quality leadership, internal politics and a populist platform that does not leave room for in-depth reforms .

Recently, the Prime Minister of the Canadian province of Ontario traveled to Minnesota and gave a speech in which he observed that “in today’s world all countries are alike, you can borrow your capital you can copy technology, you can buy raw materials. There is only one thing left to make a difference and that is talent”. This belief is clearly reflected in the priority that the dynamic of nations of East Asia and Scandinavia have given to the development of its education system at all levels. By contrast, Spain and most Latin American countries have not yet managed to put human resources at the center of their efforts for economic growth and social transformation. The present economic and financial crisis makes it more difficult to look to the long term investment required in higher education.

In a recent article entitled “let’s go Denmark”, the UK weekly magazine The Economist (2013) analyzed the strength of the political culture in the Scandinavian countries. A strong tradition of negotiated compromises, coupled with the ability to undertake audacious change at the same time, has allowed these nations to evolve smoothly into dynamic knowledge-based economies without eroding their social fabric characterized by a high degree of cohesion and inclusion.  In the same vein, being able to undertake reforms consensually designed and accepted as long-term State policies, rather than as the program of a given government driven by short-term electoral considerations, may be the biggest challenge in most Ibero-American countries where there is little tradition of bi-partisan decision-making.
Note: This text was initially posted on the Inside Higher Education blog at http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/governance-challenge-ibero-american-universities

The last time the world took notice of higher education in Myanmar, it was in the aftermath of the brutally repressed student uprising of August 1988, which resulted in thousands of deaths and arrests and stronger sanctions from the international community.

The political transition that started in 2011 has triggered the resumption of international collaboration in the higher education sector and the launch of a comprehensive education sector review led by the government of Myanmar with strong support from development partners.  The purpose of this analytical exercise is to pave the way for increased external assistance based on an objective diagnosis of the current situation and needs, to help the government and other stakeholders formulate a strategy for the future development of higher education.

Aung San Suu KyiThe first higher education policy dialogue workshop in Myanmar since the beginning of the political transition took place in Naypyitaw on 29 June 2013, with a focus on “Empowering Higher Education: A vision for Myanmar’s universities”.  It was convened by the British Council with strong participation and support from AusAID, the Asian Development Bank and UNESCO. I was invited as an advisor to AusAID.

The two-day meeting brought together representatives of the various ministries overseeing the operation of higher education institutions, rectors and academics, student leaders, and members of parliament, including the Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  The workshop offered a unique platform for policy dialogue around the main issues facing higher education in Myanmar, allowing many stakeholders who had not had a voice for several decades – especially students from all over the country – to participate actively in the deliberations.

The official opening statement by Deputy Union Minister of Education Myo Myint outlined changes the government had already made to improve education as well as plans to revitalise higher education and intensify international partnerships.

Suu Kyi’s four guiding principles

It was of great significance and symbolic value that this was followed by a speech delivered by Aung San Suu Kyi in her role as chair of the parliamentary committee for revitalisation of Yangon University.

In her inspirational speech about the role of education in constructing a democratic Myanmar, the Nobel laureate spoke about the priorities for restoring universities, articulating four dimensions of empowerment as the organising principles that should guide higher education development in the current reconstruction phase.

The first one is empowerment through autonomy, which would allow universities to manage their academic activities in an effective manner, as opposed to the present situation of strict government control.

The second is inclusiveness, a basic requirement to ensure equal opportunities for all groups in Myanmar society in terms of access and success in higher education. This emphasis on equity is all the more important as large segments of the population have been excluded from higher education since the 1988 crackdown.

The third principle is empowerment for change, referring to the ability of each university to transform itself into an innovative institution.

And the last one is empowerment for the future, through reforms of the curriculum and pedagogical practices with the purpose of better preparing the young women and men of Myanmar who will be responsible for creating a more democratic society and building a more productive economy.

Review and priorities for action

After the presentation of the preliminary results of the sector review – indicating major performance gaps in terms of coverage and equity, quality and relevance, financing and governance – I urged the workshop participants to consider five key points as Myanmar moves forward to reconstruct its higher education system with possible support from several donor agencies: opportunities, challenges, vision, consensus-building and coordination.

First of all, the political transition represents a unique opportunity to ‘get it right’ – to construct a sound and balanced higher education system for the long term.  Many, if not most, countries in the world are hampered in their efforts to improve higher education by the weight of tradition and the reluctance of stakeholders to embrace change.  The current situation offers a unique opportunity to undertake courageous reforms that are often not possible in other countries because of vested interests and entrenched positions that block meaningful change.

JAMIL&AUNG SAN SUU KYISecond, the national authorities and university leaders face a perplexing dilemma as they work on reconstructing the higher education system. On the one hand, they are faced with a myriad of immediate tasks to get the system to operate properly again. On the other hand, they should devote, as a matter of priority, sufficient time to thinking seriously about the future of higher education in preparation for the long-term transformation that is needed.  Balancing the resolution of urgent problems and the careful preparation of future developments is a major challenge that must be addressed effectively.

Third, preparing for the future requires elaborating a vision and formulating a strategic plan to guide the harmonious development of Myanmar’s higher education system.  This would involve setting clear targets in terms of quantitative expansion and the reduction of social and ethnic disparities and defining the desirable institutional configuration of the system; that is, the types of institutions – universities and non-university institutions – that are needed to satisfy demand for higher education, as well as the specific mission of each category of institution.  The plan would include identifying the conditions necessary for the proper functioning of all institutions from the viewpoint of supporting quality assurance mechanisms, appropriate governance and sustainable funding.

Fourth, the development of a vision and strategic plan should not be a technocratic exercise rigidly controlled from the top. It will only become meaningful if prepared in a participatory mode as a consensus-building process, bringing together the diverse constituents of the higher education community and allowing for a high degree of tolerance for controversies and disagreements around the content of the needed reforms and the proposed changes.  Achieving consensus on higher education policies requires a transparency of approach and creating confidence among all stakeholders.

Last but not least is the need for effective donor coordination. Countries in transition like Myanmar, emerging from a long period of international isolation, often become the donors’ latest darling. Offers for university partnerships abound all of a sudden; many projects are being prepared concurrently.  But these concrete manifestations of good intentions are not always coordinated, and carry the risk of pulling the higher education system in several directions. The onus is on the government and parliament of Myanmar to make sure that donor support is consistently and coherently anchored in the country’s vision, plan and priorities.

As Myanmar moves forward to reconstruct its higher education system, all stakeholders should bear in mind the notion expressed by the president of the University of Maryland, at the beginning of the financial crisis in the United States, that “a crisis is an opportunity not to be wasted”.  I would paraphrase his observation by stating that, in the case of Myanmar, the political transition is too good an opportunity to be missed, as the country commits itself to establishing the basis for a strong higher education system.

A tribute by Hans de Wit, Patti McGill Peterson and Jamil Salmi

On April 5, 2013, a large group of colleagues, students and friends gathered in Boston to honor the career of  Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) and J. Donald Monan SJ Professor of Higher Education at the School of Education of Boston College.  He will retire from his professorship but continue as director of CIHE.  The global gathering was organized to honor Philip for his enormous contributions over almost 50 years as a teacher, scholar, advisor and author of many books and articles on international higher education. During a one-day seminar, key topics in international higher education were addressed by scholars and higher education policy leaders from around the world (including China, India, Africa, Russia, Europe, Latin America and Northern America): national and regional challenges for higher education; the international pursuit of excellence; and international imperatives, initiatives and risks. Philip Altbach, who does not like to put himself on a pedestal, made one condition to accept this surprise honor: the seminar had to be substantive and its results will be published by the Center. Look for its future publication as together the presentations provided a comprehensive overview of developments in international higher education over the past twenty years.

The study of higher education, and the role of Philip Altbach in this field, cover many themes: higher education, in particular the study of national systems, cultures and developments; comparative education, international education, and their combined approach ‘comparative and international education’; internationalization and globalization of higher education; and the new overarching theme of ‘International Higher Education’.

Philip Altbach over the past five decades has been one of the few leading scholars with a continuing interest in these themes, and his research and publications, as well as his editorship of several journals, have been and continue to be highly relevant to define and orient the theory and practice of international higher education.

His drive, as he stated in a recent portrait in the Boston College Chronicle (April 3, 2013) :

“Over the course of almost 50 years, I’ve tried to contribute to understanding the nature of the university and how it affects human, economic and social development. These institutions are critical to societies, whether they’re in developing countries or developed, industrial nations. To have spent so much time learning about universities in America and other countries and picking up new perspectives has been exceedingly interesting and fulfilling. It’s what I care about and it’s what I feel is important.”  That was his drive for studying student unrest in the US and elsewhere at the start of his academic career. The focus of his doctoral work on India at the University of Chicago served as an important platform for his interest in higher education in the rest of the world, especially developing countries.  Before others he did work on higher education developments in India, China, Russia, Africa and the Middle East, now at the centre of everybody’s attention but still building to a large extent on his work over the past years, such as the recent collection of his work on India, edited by Pawan Agarwal.

In his scholarly work, Phillip Altbach does not only describe trends and developments, but also points to unintended and negative aspects of higher education development: its commercialization; examples of fraud and corruption; degree and diploma mills; the use of agents, and so on.  It has not always made him popular in university circles, as reflected in the sometimes heated debate about the use of agents in the US context, but that has made him even more convinced of the necessity to address also the more controversial sides of international higher education.

 His  ‘Center for International Higher Education’ over the past 20 years has been the amazing nucleus of innovative activities and individuals: publications, phd and master students, visiting scholars and so on. The small office of CIHE is always crowded with doctoral students, visiting scholars and other international visitors from different parts of the world who make the Center a friendly and vibrant community of international scholars and students, a global think thank on international higher education. The large number of books published under the auspices of the Center, and the widely acclaimed newsletter  ‘International Higher Education’, published in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Russian, capture the collective result of this international community of scholars. Together – as Philip Altbach himself observed during the seminar in his honor – they have established this new field of international higher education:  the study of higher education in a comparative and comprehensive way, moving from a focus on higher education in a national context to a more international context, reflecting the globalization of our societies and the increasingly important role of knowledge and higher education in that process, and addressing not only western but in particular other contexts and concepts of higher education in the world.

The Center, under his direction, has focused on critical global higher education issues and the international factors that have shaped them such as: massification, privatization, internationalization and globalization; the emergence of international rankings and  the phenomenon of world class universities.  Through his own scholarly work and working with other scholars across the globe he has given us a deeper understanding of the changing role of the academic profession; access and equity; higher education and social cohesion; the public – private mix; student circulation; emerging global models of the research University; and the positive and negative dimensions of these changes.

We can identify issues, trends and developments worthy of monitoring but we cannot predict the future of international higher education.  That is why we need the microscope of the scholar and the critical observer.  This is the unique contribution of Philip Altbach over the course of his incredibly productive academic career.  His legacy lives on through our understanding of higher education globally.  He will retire as professor but we are delighted that he will continue his work through the Center of International Higher Education at Boston College.

Hans de Wit is Professor of Internationalization of Higher Education, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and Director of the Centre of Higher Education Internationalization, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan

Patti McGill Peterson is the Presidential Advisor on global Initiatives, American Council on Education 

The article was first published by University World News on 14 April 2013.

A study of recent university mergers in Russia confirms some of the findings presented in my 2009 book “The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities” about the difficulties of constructing top institutions following the merger approach.  Igor Chirikov, senior researcher at the Moscow School of Economics, reports that the various programs of excellence launched by the Russian government since 2005, which “encouraged” many universities to merge, have achieved mixed results.

For the past 7 years, the Russian government has actively sought ways of enhancing the performance and contribution of its leading universities.  It initiated the Federal University program in 2005, followed by the Innovative University program in 2006, and the National Research University program in 2009.  In many cases, setting up the new federal universities involved mergers.

The study on “identity formation” conducted by the Higher School of Economics through in-depth interviews and surveys at four of the new federal universities reveals serious post-merger dysfunctions linked to tensions between the formal regional nature of these universities before the merger and the expectations of a global focus in their new configuration.

In my book, I stressed the challenge of blending in a harmonious manner the institutional cultures of the two or more universities involved in any merger.  The Higher School of Economics Study finds that, in the Russian case, the more significant difficulties have not appeared in the initial phase but rather in the post-merger period.  These difficulties reflect resistance from academics concerned about losing their disciplinary identity and having to compete in an unfamiliar academic environment, fear of students not familiar with the new university brand, ambivalent messages from the State on what becoming “world-class” entails, insufficient institutional autonomy to operate as an entrepreneurial university, and a more complex administrative structure to manage the reconfigured university.  As Tatiana Jean, a renowned IFRI researcher with expertise on Russian universities suggests, “in order to obtain full ownership from all stakeholders, the State and the concerned university leaders need to offer clear and consistent messages to explain the global stakes of these mergers and their concrete implications.”

This blog entry was first published by Inside Higher Education.  See  http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/university-mergers-russia-not-easy-route-success#ixzz2PvSFVwvL

 

This article was written by Simon Marginson on the occasion of the appointment of a new Minister of Education in Australia. Simon Marginson is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. A shorter version of this article was first published on 6 February 2013 by The Australian.

The top global expert on higher education, the individual who knows more than anyone else about living breathing university systems, is Moroccan economist and former World Bank coordinator for tertiary education, Jamil Salmi.

It seems that Salmi has written reports for, and provided consultancy advice to, every second government across the world. Recently he has focused on a question preoccupying many countries, whether emerging from poverty, or wealthy and with established education systems: how to make a ‘World-Class University’ (WCU)?

As Salmi notes in a recent paper, many governments are most concerned to know whether their top universities are operating at the cutting edge of intellectual and scientific development.

The Australian government, which last October set itself the ambitious target of ten universities in the world’s top 100, has a direct interest in the WCU question.

In the current policy context, ‘World-Class Universities’ are not those that provide the best programs or educate the most diverse set of citizens.

WCUs are not necessarily the most intellectually creative or far-sighted institutions, and they are not the most socially equitable. Nor are they the institutions that best address the common problems of humanity.

WCUs are the institutions that pump out the most global science, attract and hold the top scientists, generate lucrative research applications for industry, and lead in the rankings. For better or worse, that is the present global standard.

So how do nations and universities make their WCUs, according to Salmi?

He identifies three essential elements in a WCU strategy, elements being put in place by dynamic higher education systems such as Singapore.

First, a high concentration of talented staff and students, sourced from anywhere in the world—the most crucial element.

Second, abundant resources from public and private sources, especially for research.

In rare cases where universities have risen quickly to WCU status, for example the Hong University of Science and Technology, mechanism one and two are combined. Governments concentrate resources for research in selected centres of excellence. This is also the principal strategy used by Germany in its program to establish a globally strong university system.

Third, governance that encourages vision, initiative, flexibility, responsiveness and continuous organizational learning. Autonomous university leaders and researchers that can apply resources quickly without being constrained by custom or regulation.

Salmi also notes a number of ‘accelerating factors’ that promote more rapid WCU development.

Using incentives to bring back high quality nationals working abroad. Extended intensive international benchmarking and recruitment.

The fostering of strong niches in emerging fields of research.

Support programs for young researchers, especially at post-doctoral stage, which is a highly productive part of the career cycle. Young researchers are a primary source of new lines of research. They cost less. Some stay and make a stellar long-term contribution

High quality innovations in teaching or the curriculum that demarcate the institution and build more productive links between teaching and research.

Salmi also remarks that successful institutions ‘maintain a sense of urgency in order to avoid complacency’. They continually monitor the environment and themselves. They root out dysfunctions. They keep nimble and stay humble.

So there you have it. All Canberra has to do to double our number of WCUs is cut the red tape, boost resources, fund centres of excellence on German or Chinese scale, throw its weight behind emerging talent, and persuade our universities to be humble. New Minister Chris Bowen should find all that a piece of cake!

 

Teaching and learning will look very differently in 2050.  We can imagine a single teacher giving a course to more than 100,000 students at the same time, online.  We can imagine a robot teaching a small group of students.  We can imagine students learning from each other without any teacher involvement.  Or we can imagine a student learning on her/his own, guided by an educational software using artificial intelligence…

Are these images outlandish dreams?  Actually, they are real-life examples of the radical transformation that tertiary education is undergoing today in a few institutions at the vanguard of innovative practices.  While teaching approaches and modalities have seen very little improvement in the past decades—unlike the rapid transformation that medicine has gone through—, we are likely to witness drastic changes in the near future under the combined influence of two key factors.  First, progress in education technology (online learning, simulation robots, gaming-like software, etc.) is opening new avenues for interactive and problem-based learning.  Second, tertiary education institutions are faced with the challenge of preparing young people for jobs that do not exist yet.  The traditional approach where teachers impart their knowledge to students in the classroom must imperatively be replaced by a dynamic learning model where students acquire generic competencies that prepare them to identify their own learning needs and advance their skills throughout their working life.

First published in Handshake Issue No. 8, January 2013.

 

 

Today we in India are experiencing the benefits of the reverse flow of income, investment and expertise from the global Indian diaspora. The problem of “brain drain” has been converted happily into the opportunity of “brain gain.”

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

 As colonized nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the first decisions of the new governments was usually to establish a national university. In each country, the flagship university was expected to train the cadre of professionals and leaders needed to build the new nation. Fifty years later, the results have been discouraging. With a few exceptions, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), the top public universities in many parts of the developing world have failed to meet these auspicious expectations.

Persuaded by a combination of push factors (low salaries, lack of meritocracy, political instability) and pull elements (attractive remuneration, favorable visa policies, active recruitment), thousands of professionals continue to leave their home countries every year. Some of the countries that can least afford it have suffered tremendous loss of local capacity in fields critical to development, with debilitating effects on national governing structures, management capacities, productive sectors, and tertiary institutions.  At the receiving end, migrants from the developing world contribute significantly to the economic and social progress of industrial nations. Estimates indicate that the proportion of adult migrants with tertiary education leaving developing countries and moving to industrial nations grew four times between 1975 and 2000.

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