“The opportunity to start from a blank page and create an entire institution from concept to reality is a rare and precious gift. It enables many possibilities that would be unthinkable at established universities… But it requires vision, passion, and courage to attempt to innovate and to deliberately create a new and improved learning culture”.

Richard Miller, Founding President of Olin College

“Mistake is the best teacher”.

Anonymous

 

In the past decade, the term “world-class university” has become a catchphrase to describe research universities at the pinnacle of the tertiary education hierarchy, as measured by the various international rankings. Around the world, governments have responded to this global reputational competition with additional funding to promote their national elite universities, as illustrated by the various “Excellence Initiatives” in countries as varied as China, Denmark, Germany, Nigeria, Russia, South Korea, Spain, or Taiwan. In some cases, the government has also encouraged its top universities to merge so as to achieve economies of scale, and reach a better position to compete globally. A few countries have even decided to establish new universities from scratch, with the explicit purpose of creating world-class institutions.

Achieving the ambitious result of launching a high quality, new university is easier said than done, however, as building a world-class institution requires more than knee-jerk reactions to the rankings or massive infusion of government money. It is a complex and lengthy process that has only recently begun to receive careful attention. The following examples outline the most common pitfalls encountered in some of the current projects that aim at establishing a new flagship institution.

  1. Build a magnificent campus; expect magic to happen. The physical infrastructure is obviously the most visible part of a new university. A lot of care is usually given to the design and construction of impressive, state-of-the-art facilities, and rightly so. Good academic infrastructure is certainly an important part of the education experience of students, and researchers need adequate laboratories to carry out leading-edge scientific inquiries. But, without an appropriate governance set-up, a strong leadership team, a well-thought curriculum, and highly qualified academics, the beautiful campus will remain little more than an empty shell that embodies a waste of valuable resources.
  2. Design the curriculum after constructing the facilities. It is often wrongly assumed that it is easy to tailor the educational programs that will be taught to the physical environment of the institution. This may be true for traditional lecture-based teaching, but innovative pedagogical practices often require equally innovative facilities. For example, interactive approaches, problem-based learning or pedagogical methods relying heavily on teamwork and peer learning are constrained by the physical limitations of conventional lecture halls or even classrooms. Libraries and laboratories have evolved dramatically in recent years due to changes in technology. The promoters of a new university should refrain from launching into the architectural design stage of their institution until they have established not only a clear definition of the vision and mission of the new institution but have also determined some of the specific content of teaching and research. It is particularly essential (and most prudent) to prepare the academic plan of the new institution ahead of the construction of the physical infrastructure and to tailor the latter to the requirements of the former rather than the other way around. At the very least, the academic staff should be given the opportunity to influence the design of the pedagogical and research spaces of the new institution.
  3. Import all the content from somewhere else. Why reinvent the wheel? The teams in charge of establishing new universities tend to look almost exclusively at the top-ranked institutions in industrial countries to buy or copy elements of their curriculum instead of going through the more labor-intensive process of custom designing their own programs. While this may seem expedient and practical, it is not the most effective way of building the academic culture of a new university that aims to reach high standards. The Harvards and Oxfords of this world are unique institutions that have evolved over centuries, and it is unrealistic to think that reproducing their distinctive academic model is possible or even desirable. And it is impractical to envision shopping around and bringing curricular fragments from a variety of top notch institutions across different countries / cultures, assuming that everything could easily gel together and fall in place to create an authentic learning and research culture in the new university. Curriculum development is demanding work, but it is the main mechanism that can allow a unique and innovative organizational culture to emerge.
  4. Design with an OECD ecosystem in mind, implement in a challenging environment. Replicating the three key features that make flagship universities in industrial countries successful—concentration of talent, abundant resources and favorable governance—is a fundamental requirement, but it does not encompass the full complement of operational conditions that underpin the authorizing environment of a successful world-class institution. It is difficult if not impossible to create and maintain thriving universities when the tertiary education ecosystem within which they operate is not fully supportive. Some potentially important dimensions of a favorable ecosystem include leadership at the national level (existence of a vision about the future of tertiary education, capacity to implement reforms), the regulatory framework (legal provisions, governance structure and management processes at the national and institutional levels), the quality assurance framework, the mechanisms and pathways integrating the various types of tertiary education institutions, the financial resources and incentives, along with the digital and telecommunications infrastructure. To operate adequately, all of these require an overarching set of conditions which have to do with political and economic stability, the rule of law, the existence of basic freedoms, and a favorable location from the viewpoint of the spatial environment in which the new tertiary education institution is meant to operate (local economic, social and cultural life). The absence of even only one of these elements or the lack of alignment among these various dimensions is likely to compromise the ability of new universities to progress and endure.
  5. Delay putting in place the governing board and appointing the leadership team. The resolution to establish a new university is often a political decision reflecting a visionary ambition at the highest levels that a ministry or a technical project team is then charged with putting into action. This typically leads to a centrally managed design and implementation process. Given that the establishment of a new university requires passion and drive to create a new organizational culture, it cannot be built by a committee that is not fully committed. A project of such magnitude must be fully owned and carried out by a dynamic leadership team, working under the authority of an independent board with the capacity to offer guidance and empowerment. The first order of business of the new board has to be the identification, selection and installation of institutional leadership. Putting in place an appropriate governance framework from the outset is a key factor of success.
  6. Stack the board with political appointees. Founders need to choose a governing board that brings together a range of essential expertise that can evolve over time. The governing board should start out small and grow very gradually to accommodate more expertise as needed. The common oversight is that people are appointed to boards on the assumption that they “represent” their institution or represent a constituency, when really they should represent an area of expertise needed in the management of the new and growing institution (legal expert, financial expert, infrastructure expert, academic experts, retired institutional leaders, etc.). Another, related misstep is to appoint governing board members who have too little time. It is better to have the board skewed toward recently retired university presidents or experts than to have too many members with insufficient time and dedication to the endeavor.
  7. Plan for up-front capital costs, but pay little attention to the long-term financial sustainability. The promoters of a new university usually announce with enthusiasm the huge endowment dedicated to the establishment of the new institution, but the initial capital investment is only one part of the total project. It is essential to provide adequately for the first few years of operation and to establish a thoughtful business model that allows the new institution to grow and endure in a financially sustainable manner.
  8. Engage in mergers for the wrong reasons. Because some of the key indicators used by global rankings put a premium on the number of publications produced by research universities, the temptation to merge institutions in order to maximize measurable outputs has become stronger in recent years. Whether the initiative comes from institutional leaders themselves or from government, mergers are risky undertakings. First, the new, consolidated institution can be dysfunctional because of clashing institutional cultures. One of the main challenges when undertaking a merger is to create a shared academic culture and transformation vision among all constituting units (faculties, schools, departments) and bring internal coherence to the newly established institution. Second, the merged institution may become too large to be managed effectively. The experience of mega-universities in Latin America indicates that it is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain high quality teaching, learning and research in over-sized institutions.  Mergers make sense only if the strengths of the merging institutions complement each other, thereby making it easy to build critical mass and achieve significant synergies. In fact, the more successful mergers appear to be those that resemble more acquisitions than mergers per se. This happens when one institution takes the initiative to absorb an outside school or department that can usefully complement its own offerings and boost its strengths, as illustrated by the experience of the Lausanne Polytechnic School (EPFL), which took over, as part of its upgrading strategy, the math, physics and chemistry departments of the University of Lausanne.
  9. Be too ambitious in the quantitative growth targets. The leaders of new institutions sometimes think that they can rapidly enroll large numbers of students, often in the tens of thousands. This is rarely achieved without sacrificing quality. In the 1970s, E.F. Schumacher wrote in his famous book “Small is Beautiful” that successful development projects were preferably of a small size. Small is still beautiful today, especially when it applies to setting up a new college or university. It is usually a better idea to begin with few programs and a small student body if quality is a priority. It allows the new institution to deploy resources more prudently, take adequate time to develop a nurturing academic culture, and give precedence to quality considerations. Once a strong academic culture is in place, it is easier to scale up.
  10. Think that everything can be accomplished in eighteen months. A variant of over-ambitious planning is assuming that a new institution can be launched in a matter of months and that high quality teaching and research can be accomplished within a few years of establishing a new university. In reality, rushing through the initial phase of design and implementation—the big bang approach—can only lead to hasty decisions that can have an adverse effect on the quality and cost of the project. Institution building is a long-term process that requires stable leadership, continuous improvement, and patience. As observed by Daniel Lincoln, “excellence, like all things of abiding value, is a marathon, not a sprint”. Taking the long view is especially important when it comes to developing the robust scientific capacity and the critical mass needed to produce leading edge research and innovative technological applications.
  11. Rely exclusively on foreign academics without building local capacity. Hiring foreign academics is common practice to accelerate the launch of a new university in a country with limited capacity. Indeed, it makes good sense to bring experienced instructors and researchers to help put new programs in place; it can also be a very effective capacity-building strategy when an important part of the mission of the foreign academics is to train younger, less experienced academics from the host country. At the same time, it can be a risky and counter-productive approach in the absence of systematic efforts to attract and retain qualified national academics. It can even lead to fraudulent practices when the young university contracts eminent researchers whose main contribution is to lend their signature and publish in the name of the new university. As with most plans that include reliance on outside actors, the strategy of bringing on foreign academic staff should fundamentally serve the aim of grooming national academics and building local research capacity.
  1. Neglect to integrate your foreign students well. In their search for world-class status, new institutions are aware that internationalization can be an important factor for shaping a global curriculum and attracting foreign talent. In that context, many universities try to boost their intake of qualified—and often fee-paying—foreign students, a dimension that is privileged by some of the global rankings as an essential mark of performance. But, bringing in many foreign students can be counter-productive if the receiving university does not have in place a proper system to ensure their smooth integration. The unhappy experience of foreign students can negatively affect the international reputation of the concerned university—or even damage the image of the entire country—when news of the unsatisfactory experiences of former students define the inquiries of potential students. Moreover, such negativity can be amplified by incidents linked to hostile attitudes in society at large, as has happened recently in countries where the anti-immigration debate has been revived by populist politicians. A constructive way of dealing with this issue is to use the presence of foreign students as a vehicle for internationalizing the curriculum in terms of both program content and pedagogical practices.
  1. Focus on the global research scene at the expense of the local environment. Developing a strong research community is one of the most challenging elements in any attempt to build a world-class university from scratch. This is often achieved by bringing eminent researchers from the Diaspora back home and/or attracting top foreign academics who are well connected and successfully engage in leading-edge collaborative research across frontiers. This is a reasonable strategy provided it does not come at the cost of conducting locally relevant research and forming strong linkages with the local economic actors. The absence of a well-developed local innovation system is often a major obstacle but it should not detract the new university from seeking the right balance between global reach and local engagement.
  1. Be obsessed with the rankings. Too often, politicians and university leaders mistake the measuring instrument for the goal. A few countries have even framed their excellence initiative in ranking target terms and a growing number of universities have appointed “ranking officers” dedicated to rankings simulations and the preparation of scenarios to guide the climb of their institution to the top. While the rankings can be useful tools for benchmarking the global position of universities, rising in the rankings should not be the priority or a goal in itself. Institutions that work relentlessly at increasing the quality of teaching and learning and improving their research output will automatically do better in the rankings without needing to fixate on them.

Launching a new university with the aspiration of attaining the highest possible standards is a noble but extremely difficult enterprise. The road to academic excellence is full of pitfalls, as illustrated by this discussion of the most commonly observed errors. Above all, growing and sustaining a top-tier university requires inspirational and far-sighted leaders who can innovate and adapt to the changing environment while staying true to the core mission, and who are deft at balancing the local commitment and the global reach.

Finally, the decision to build a world-class university must always be examined within the proper context to ensure full alignment with the national tertiary education strategy and avoid distortions in resource allocation. With thoughtful and realistic planning, however, reaching for excellence in tertiary education, at all levels, is always a worthwhile undertaking.

This blog is adapted from an article published on 5 April 2017 in Times Higher Education.  https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/young-university-rankings-2017-14-mistakes-new-universities-make

 

 

In order to accelerate the transformation process towards building “world-class” universities, a few governments – China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Spain, for example – have launched so-called “excellence initiatives”, consisting of large injections of additional funding to boost the performance of their university sector. While many of these programs are fairly young, having started in the past decade or even more recently, they have begun to impact the participating universities in a significant way. This makes it imperative to assess how effective these excellence initiatives have been and draw lessons from recent and ongoing experiences. For that purpose, the Russian Academic Excellence Project 5-100 convened an International Conference on Excellence Initiatives on June 30 and July 1, 2016, in collaboration with IREG Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence.

One of the most innovative features of this International Conference on Excellence Initiatives, which took place in St-Petersburg, was that it brought together government representatives (Ministry officials and managers of Excellence Initiatives implementation offices), university leaders – the “victims” or beneficiaries of these excellence initiatives – and higher education researchers focusing on rankings and other measures of academic excellence.

While the first excellence initiatives, especially in East Asia and the Nordic Countries, reflected a long-term national policy to strengthen the contribution of tertiary education to economic development, the most recent wave seems to have been primarily stimulated by the perception of a competitive disadvantage relative to the more stellar performance of foreign universities, as measured by the global rankings. This was definitely the case with the 2012 French initiative that has encouraged mergers and alliances to give more visibility to the top universities in the country, or the 2013 Academic Excellence Project in Russia, which explicitly aims to place 5 universities in the top 100 by 2020. As a result, most of the Excellence Initiatives have sought to promote internationalization as a mechanism for attracting top academic talent, thus strengthening the research capacity of leading universities and reducing in-breeding.

As discussed during the Conference, most excellence initiatives have put more emphasis on research than teaching. Spain is an exception, with careful consideration being given to the balanced development of a strong research capacity, modern teaching and learning practices, and active collaboration with the economic environment.

Many excellence initiatives mark a significant philosophical shift in the funding policies of the participating countries, notably in Europe. In France, Germany, Russia and Spain, for instance, where all public universities had traditionally been considered to be equally good in terms of performance, the excellence initiatives have brought a move away from the principle of uniform budget entitlements towards a substantial element of competitive, performance-based funding.

Indeed, the selection process to choose the beneficiary universities and/or centers of excellence is perhaps the most noteworthy element of excellence initiatives. In the majority of cases, the governments approach has involved a competition among eligible universities with a thorough peer review process to select the best proposals. The peer review process usually relies on the work of expert evaluation teams including a mix of national and international experts.

As competition for funding among universities gets fiercer, the importance of cooperation should not be overlooked. Evidence shows that researchers are most effective when they participate in collaborative projects, nationally or internationally. During the Conference, participants explained how the type of international collaborative research promoted by excellence initiatives tends to be of higher quality and has a greater influence than traditional research. The Canadian program of chairs of excellence, for example, has brought about unexpected synergies resulting from collaborations across universities.

One of the other positive outcomes of excellence initiatives is that they have allowed a new generation of university leaders to emerge. The successful transformation and upgrading of universities, which is what excellence initiatives pursue, requires indeed a bold vision and the capacity to change the mindset of the academic community in the search of academic excellence.

The Conference participants spent a lot of time talking about the need to set up proper monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess the results of excellence initiatives. Are the global rankings adequate measures to provide a good sense of the effectiveness of the programs? Would benchmarking be a more appropriate approach to evaluate the impact of excellence initiatives?

Measuring the effectiveness and impact of excellence initiatives on the beneficiary universities is not an easy task for at least two reasons: time and attribution. First, upgrading a university takes many years, eight to ten at the very minimum. Since many excellence initiatives are fairly recent, attempts at measuring success could be premature in most cases. It is indeed unlikely that the scientific production of beneficiary universities would increase significantly within the first few years immediately after the beginning of an excellence initiative. A thorough analysis would therefore require looking at a reasonably large sample of institutions for comparison purposes, either within a given country or across countries, over many years. The second challenge is related to attribution. Even if a correlation could be identified on the basis of a large sample of institutions, establishing how the excellence initiatives actually caused the positive changes would require an in-depth evaluation.

In the absence of impact analyses of the recent excellence initiatives, comparing the results of the top universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Ranking) over the past decade (2004-2014) offers a few insights. The four countries that have made considerable progress are China (24 additional universities in the top 500), Australia (5 additional universities), Saudi Arabia and Taiwan (4 additional universities each). All four countries have had one or more excellence initiatives, which have facilitated sustained investment in support of their top universities.

At the bottom of the list, the main “losers” are Japan and the United States, which place, respectively, 15 and 24 universities fewer among the top 500 in 2014 compared to ten years earlier. In the case of the United States, it is interesting to note the relatively higher proportion of public universities that dropped out of the ranking, which tends to confirm the adverse impact of the significant reduction in public subsidies since the 2007 financial crisis (or even before in some States).

At the institutional level, the five universities that have climbed most significantly in the ranking over the past decade – Shanghai Jiao Tao University and Fudan University in China, King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, the University of Aix-Marseille in France, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology – have all received funding from their respective national excellence initiative.

Besides supporting entire universities in their improvement efforts, many excellence initiatives have offered funding to build critical mass by establishing new centers of excellence or strengthening existing ones, oftentimes with a focus on multi-disciplinary approaches. A recent OECD review of excellence initiatives found that one of their major benefits has been to provide funding for high-impact / high-risk basic research as well as for interdisciplinary and cooperative research endeavors.

At the same time, the Conference participants issued a warning based on the observation that excellence initiatives may engender negative behaviors and carry adverse consequences. Policy makers and university leaders must keep in mind the risk of harmful effects on teaching and learning quality because of the research emphasis of most excellence initiatives, reduced equality of opportunities for students from underprivileged groups as universities become more selective, and diminished institutional diversity as all institutions aspire to become world-class universities. Another challenge faced by several excellence initiatives is that, in the absence of an appropriate governance reform to free them from civil service regulations and limitations, beneficiary universities tend to create parallel tracks to provide a positive environment for their star researchers, with state-of-the-art laboratories and US-style doctoral schools operating in isolation from the rest of the university, which may remain untouched by the changes financed through the excellence initiative.

This blog entry was first published by Inside Higher Education on 13 July 2016

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. 

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!

 

 

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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Written with Phil Altbach

The latest accoutrement of world-class universities, or those aspiring to world-class status, is  an international advisory group. The useful goals of such committees, which meet on an occasional basis to review and evaluate the institution’s plans and performance, include bringing new ideas and analysis from the experience of academia beyond the borders and especially from the pinnacles of higher education globally, and hopefully assist the institution to understand itself and to improve. The committee members have a continuing relationship with the university and, presumably, a commitment to its welfare and improvement. They can be called on for occasional advice, generally on a pro bono basis. Prestige is part of the game. It can’t do any harm to have a Nobel Prize winner or two, prominent university rectors, and other luminaries associated with the university.

Advisory committee members have many motivations to serve. They generally focus on service to overseas colleagues and assisting other universities. Many enjoy a bit of academic tourism, and some wish to learn some useful lessons from the university or committee colleagues. Few, if any, are able to devote a significant amount of time to the enterprise.

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Institutions around the world are pursuing recognition as “world class” universities. In many cases, establishing world-class universities has been incorporated into national development strategies. This week’s blog is part of an ongoing series addressing these initiatives and the errors and oversights often committed in the course of implementation. The previous blogs were “9 Common Errors of New World Class Universities” and “Consolidation Pitfalls.”

Engage in mergers for the wrong reasons. Because some of the key indicators used by global rankings put a premium on the number of publications produced by research universities, the temptation to merge institutions in order to maximize measurable outputs has become stronger in recent years. Whether the initiative comes from institutional leaders themselves or from government, mergers are risky undertakings.

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Cover of The Road to Academic ExcellenceWhen I published my first book on World Class Universities two years ago, I certainly did not anticipate the world-wide exposure it received. Now, I sometimes worry about having contributed to raising expectations about the importance of world-class universities.

When I visited Nigeria last year, I was told that the country wanted to have 20 World Class Universities by 2020. Recently, Sri Lanka announced that it would increase its higher education budget in the hope of having at least one world-class university. Today we launched The Road to Academic Excellence, a new book I edited with Professor Phil Altbach, and already, the burden of guilt regarding the possible consequences of the new book haunts me. 

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