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.

Read the rest of this entry

 

As I was bidding farewell to the World Bank earlier this year, I received an invitation from Green Templeton College, Oxford University, to attend the Emerging Markets Symposium – an initiative that convenes leaders from government, academia and the private sector to address the major policy challenges facing emerging market countries.

The policy theme for this year’s Symposium was tertiary education and I delivered the opening lecture. This came before my last week with the Bank and, with several former colleagues in the audience, it could have been tempting to look back at my Bank work over the past twenty-five years. Instead, I did something more important, challenging, and pressing: I speculated about the future.

“Let’s try to picture it,” I told the audience, and I listed some scenarios.  “In the future, students will take all their exams online and their degree will only be valid for five years.”
“Those in need of financial aid will participate in eBay auctions to apply for a scholarship.”
“Graduates will be reimbursed the cost of their studies if they don’t find a job within six months.”
And, to give a final example, “in countries where it’s difficult to attract engineering students to study engineering, universities will go straight to kindergartens to motivate candidates.”

Do these sound outlandish? They shouldn’t. As I then pointed out to the audience, all of the above are actually taking place somewhere in the world today. The question, of course, is what it means- and what the implications are for emerging market countries.

Read the rest of this entry

Written with Jennifer Pye

Globally the disabled population continues to be the most disadvantaged and marginalized group within society with limited access to educational opportunities. According to UNESCO’s Global Education for All Monitoring Report 2010, “disability is one of the least visible but most potent factors in educational marginalization.”  On December 3rd, every year,  the U.N. celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

As part of an ongoing policy research activity, together with my colleagues Roberta Malee Bassett and Jennifer Pye, we have been looking at what is known about equity of access and success in tertiary education for people with disabilities.  It did not take our team long to appreciate how little international research and reliable data exist on the situation of students with disabilities in World Bank client countries. Gaining an accurate insight turned out to be a challenging undertaking; but little evidence available, most of it still anecdotal at this stage, suggests wide disparities in educational access and success at all levels of education.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

University campuses all over the world remained relatively calm during the first decade of the new century. The lack of student activism prompted comments about the apathy of today’s students compared to the high level of political awareness and commitment of their predecessors in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. By contrast, 2011 saw waves of student protests around the cost of university education in places as diverse as Seoul, London, Berkeley, Bogota and Santiago.

Some observers see the affinity of students for street protests as a ritual of political coming-of-age. After all, young adults’ first consequential political interactions with their governments are usually over how much they will pay for school and what they will get in return. So it makes for a natural flash point.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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. 

Read the rest of this entry