How to Create World-Class Universities: A Guide

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/26/2009 06:05:00 AM
This is a bit of navel-gazing at the international political economy of what a lot of us are familiar with in higher education. Given the famously open-ended nature of higher education, our American friends have depicted college as consisting of sex for the undergraduates, parking for the faculty, and football for the alumni. While I am not in a place to doubt the veracity of this assertion, one of the things that interests me at the current time is the challenge for the rest of us in establishing world-class universities. Is it a worthwhile goal or is it one just for wealthy nations? To me, higher education in its current form is an Anglo-Saxon game: the gatekeepers of what constitutes valued research output--"knowledge"--are mostly American and British.

In effect, "world-class" is to no small extent a homogenizing process involving the prioritization of research according to American and British yardsticks to improve international league table standings. As an institution that has in the past been faulted for promoting one-size-fits-all policies, the World Bank may not be best placed to embrace a diversity of approaches to promoting higher education. In particular, LDC resources for higher education may not be best utilized by creating prestigious research centers but by ensuring that teaching quality is improved at the tertiary level with wider access. Still, the title of this new 2009 publication emphasizing world-class institutions does imply a clear (US/UK) direction. Certainly, it's interesting material even if its thrust is somewhat esoteric to the more basic task of establishing workable tertiary educational institutions in the developing world.

Here is the introduction by current World Bank Chief Economist Justin Lin to the publication prepared by well-known higher education researcher Jamil Salmi. If the topic is of interest, though, go through the publication by all means:
This new report, with its focus on world-class universities, examines the power of tertiary education for development from the perspective of excellence in research and scholarship at its most competitive levels. The report is extremely timely in exploring the emerging power of league tables and rankings in driving the tertiary education policy debates worldwide. In seeking a position on these lists of the best universities in the world, governments and university stakeholders have expanded their own perceptions of the purpose and position of tertiary education in the world. No longer are countries comfortable with developing their tertiary education systems to serve their local or national communities. Instead, global comparison indicators have gained significance in local development of universities. These world-class universities are now more than just cultural and educational institutions—they are points of pride and comparison among nations that view their own status in relation to other nations.

World-class standards may be a reasonable goal for some institutions in many countries, but they are likely not relevant, cost-effective, or efficient for many others. Knowing how to maneuver in this global tertiary education environment to maximize the benefits of tertiary education locally is the great challenge facing university systems worldwide. This publication is one important tool to assist with this goal.