Towards a New Generation of Engaged Universities:
The Need to Act, Adapt and Transform

16th – 18thApril, 2024 | Kempinski Central Avenue (Formerly the Address Dubai Mall), Dubai, UAE


MENA HELF 2013 Theme

[vc_row][vc_column width=\”2/3\”][vc_column_text]Becoming a “World-Class University” in a Modern Context: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies Forward
Increasingly, in today’s competitive global ‘knowledge economy’, the economic and social prospects of countries are strongly tied up to the quality of their ‘human capital’ and how well educated their people are. Thus, educational institutions at all levels from pre-school to universities and beyond have a social responsibility towards building nations’ wealth and developing capacity to respond to the new economic, social and cultural challenges and enable nations to compete in a global knowledge economy.

During the past decade, the term “world-class university” has become a buzzword in higher education, with its true meaning and interpretation remaining unclear among many. The questions continue to rise on what it really refers to; does it refer to universities being the best among others in their region or world widely? Does it mean that the university successfully achieves its three purposes of teaching and learning, research and community engagement? Does it refer to the university’s reputation and ability to secure an elite status which is conferred by an external organization?

In this context, Altbach has rightly observed, the paradox of the “world-class university”, is that “everyone wants one, no one knows what it is, and no one knows how to get one” (Altbach, 2004). The Economist in a similar context highlighted few years ago that “the most important recent development in the world of higher education has been the creation of a super-league of global universities that are now engaged in a battle for intellectual talent and academic prestige”.

No matter the definition associated with the usage of the term “world-class university”, it certainly implies that institutions of learning are assesses against a predefined set of criteria and standards of excellence which are internationally comparable. The proliferation of league tables in the past few years, have created a more systematic way of identifying and classifying “world-class universities”. Although most of the best-known rankings purport to categorize universities at a national level, there have also been attempts to establish international rankings.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]At the national level most countries with large higher educational systems have rankings of one kind or another including rankings devised by newspapers and magazines such as the in case of India, Japan, Spain, France, Canada, etc.; others instigated by ministries of education or accreditation agencies as it occurs in Malaysia, Netherlands, Brazil, Pakistan, Tunisia or even rankings initiated by universities or professional associations as in countries like China, Japan, Australia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, the Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, Russia, Canada, etc.

However, despite their popularity and the various methodological improvements made over the years, many scholars and academic leaders have argued the criteria established for such ranking and the methodology and approach followed. Liu and Cheng (2005) and Sundqvist (2005) pointed out the world class university rankings done by Shanghai Jiaotong University for example do not distinguish between comprehensive and specialized institutions or research-oriented and teaching oriented institutions. They further pointed out the lack of measurement on undergraduate education and teaching service in the ranking criteria.

In this respect, research and scholarly activity, publications, citations, and faculty obtainment awards and medals are highly visible and measurable while the quality of the educational process is not. As such there is a tacit assumption that if a particular institution is highly competitive in its admissions that the educational quality is also very high, even without measuring that quality.

Rankings systems based on institutions, rather than single disciplines, appear to ‘evaluate universities as a whole’ (Van Dyke, 2005). But no system of rankings covers all purposes of higher education. When rankings systems attempt to cover the generality of purposes and interests, the problem of partial coverage and exclusion is hidden but compounded. Usher & Savino (2006) examine 19 league tables and university rankings systems from around the world. They note that different rankings systems are driven by very different purposes and associated with different notions of what constitutes university quality. This problem is fundamental because the areas excluded by the Jiao Tong and Times Higher rankings include teaching quality .Teaching is difficult or impossible to measure with rigor for comparative national purposes let global comparison; and no ranking or quality assessment system has generated comparative data based on measures of the ‘value added’ during the educational process. Few comparisons focus on teaching and learning as such. Rather, various proxies for teaching ‘quality’ are used, such as quantity resource indicators including average student-staff ratios, student selectivity (actually a proxy for reputation not for teaching quality), and research performance.

In response to many of these criticisms, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings has considerably improved its methodology and has broaden its assessment criteria for ranking. The recently launch 2012-3 THE World University Rankings considers 13 separate performance indicators grouped into 5 broad performance categories, making them today probably the only global university rankings to examine all the core missions of the modern global university – research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity. These categories include:

  • Teaching – the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research – volume, income and reputation (30 per cent)
  • Citations – research influence (30 per cent)
  • International outlook – staff, students and research (7.5 per cent)
  • Industry income – innovation (2.5 per cent)

Regardless of the various technical and methodological problems associated with such ranking systems, they have received growing attention over the past two decades and the competition to be ranked among the world’s top universities has indeed increased and compelled public attention. In the view of many, they project a picture of leading higher education institutions around the world and represent a benchmark for universities that are striving to improve the quality of education under the competition of globalization.

Independently from which ranking system is being considered, it is believed that reputable highly ranked universities are those making significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge through research, teach with the most innovative curricula and pedagogical methodologies, and produce graduates who stand out because of their success in intensely competitive arenas during their education and, more importantly, after graduation. It is these concrete accomplishments and the international reputation associated with these sustained achievements that make these institutions “world-class”.

Additionally, “world-class universities” are characterized by:

  • a clear strategic vision
  • a strong leadership team
  • high caliber and diversified faculty and staff
  • high quality students
  • quality curriculum that responds to the market needs
  • quality and innovative pedagogy and Teaching and Learning approach
  • strong institutional commitment to cutting-edge research
  • adequate resources to support the institution
  • a culture of continuous improvement

There are no magical formulae for making an institution become a “world-class” university and building “world-class” universities does not happen overnight. Creating a culture of excellence and achieving high quality sustainable outputs take many years and required a long maturation period.

As Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, mentioned the quest for knowledge is enduring and endless. Historically, achieving world-class university status has been a long and complex process. Not surprisingly, the top 10 of Shanghai Jiao Tong University\’s Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2011 were all founded before 1900.

It is worth mentioning that even those institutions meeting the “world-class university” status; continue to face many emerging challenges including:

  • the continuous ‘war for talent’ and the need to retain them;
  • the need for more resources;
  • the need to continuously improve student learning experience and integrate modern pedagogies;
  • the need to ensure equity and diversity;
  • the need to continuously review and update areas of teaching and research;
  • the ongoing competition associated with internationalization and globalization.

The theme of the first inaugural meeting of the Higher Education Academic Leadership Forum is spot on with the latest trends and development in the field and the need to ensure that higher education institutions from the region continue to improve its quality to meet international standing and can position themselves in a global world.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=\”1/3\”][vc_single_image image=\”6888\” border_color=\”grey\” img_link_target=\”_self\” img_size=\”full\”][/vc_column][/vc_row]