PL 69/11-B: University strategies

In 2009 The World Bank published the report The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities.

Picture from Oslo and Akershus University College students welcome celebration 2013.

I quote from the introduction and the executive summary.


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.

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.

From the summary

While acknowledging that world-class universities are part of national systems of tertiary education and should operate within these systems, the main focus of this report is to explore how institutions become tops in their league to guide countries and university leaders seeking to achieve world-class status.

The main objective of this report, therefore, is to explore the challenges involved in setting up globally competitive universities (also called “world-class,” “elite,” or “flagship” universities) that will be expected to compete effectively with the best of the best. Is there a pattern or template that might be followed to allow more rapid advancement to world-class status?

The paradox of the world-class university, however, as Altbach has succinctly and accurately observed, is that “everyone wants one, no one knows what it is, and no one knows how to get one” (Altbach 2004).

Becoming a member of the exclusive group of world-class universities is not achieved by self-declaration; rather, elite status is conferred by the outside world on the basis of international recognition.

With the proliferation of league tables in the past few years, however, more systematic ways of identifying and classifying world-class universities have appeared.

World-class universities are recognized in part for their superior outputs. They produce well-qualified graduates who are in high demand on the labor market; they conduct leading-edge research published in top scientific journals; and in the case of science-and-technology–oriented institutions, they contribute to technical innovations through patents and licenses.

This report makes the case that the superior results of these institutions (highly sought graduates, leading-edge research, and technology transfer) can essentially be attributed to three complementary sets of factors at play in top universities:

  • (a) a high concentration of talent (faculty and students),
  • (b) abundant resources to offer a rich learning environment and to conduct advanced research, and
  • (c) favorable governance features that encourage strategic vision, innovation, and flexibility and that enable institutions to make decisions and to manage resources without being encumbered by bureaucracy



Tertiary education institutions in countries where there is little internal mobility of students and faculty are at risk of academic inbreeding.

Indeed, universities that rely principally on their own undergraduates to continue into graduate programs or that hire principally their own graduates to join the teaching staff are not likely to be at the leading edge of intellectual development.

A 2007 survey of European universities found an inverse correlation between endogamy in faculty hiring and research performance: the universities with the highest degree of endogamy had the lowest research results

The new patterns of knowledge generation and sharing, documented by Gibbons et al. (1994) in their groundbreaking work on the shift toward a problem-based mode of production of knowledge, are characterized by the growing importance of international knowledge networks.

In this respect, the fact that world-class universities succeed in mobilizing a broadly diverse national and international academic staff is likely to maximize these institutions’ knowledge-networking capacity.


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