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.

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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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