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Thursday, 3 October 2013

7 things universities from low-income countries can learn from world's leading research intensive universities

World class universities obtain a substantial percentage of their academic talent from abroad. In the USA, for example, the percentage of foreign born PhD students is around 40%. A large part of this talent pool has obtained its first degree at a university in the Global South, or at an unranked university. We are working in the same system, which is why it is important we strengthen the ties between these two very different type of universities.

Papua New Guinea University of Technology: Kofi Haus

Universities in the Global South, however, must first do their homework before they can productively engage with their world class cousins.
While attending the World Academic Summit in Singapore - the principal global higher education industry conference -, it occurred to me that in the developing world we need to learn 7 main things from world's leading research intensive universities. They became world class because their governments had a consistent and focused higher education policy, committed sufficient funding, and their management has been professional and was able to attract and retain talented students and faculty.

Although the Millenium Development Goals rightly focused on primary education, it has become clear that no country can advance education without a functioning secondary and tertiary level education. It is a connected system. After all, who is going to train the teachers and develop relevant teaching materials? 

Who is going to produce relevant knowledge that can be applied? How can a country develop improve its health, education, and wealth without doctors, accountants, managers, agronomists, scientists and engineers? (Judgement is still out on the need for lawyers). Developing financially sustainable and functional tertiary education systems in developing countries is therefore equally important as addressing literacy issues.

1- Stability at the top with proper governance
There is a wide variety of governance structures among the world's leading universities. The more successful universities, however, have a system that holds management accountable without creating instability at the top. Clearly dysfunctional structures such as university boards with more than 30 members filled with political appointees, or structures that do not guarantee sufficient institutional autonomy or protect academic freedom must be avoided. Governmental intimidation of academics should also be avoided at all costs.

2- Zero tolerance for corruption
Transparency International released an enlightening report on corruption in education. It turns out the problem is more widespread than many of us thought. In higher education when corruption influences the selection of students or the Faculty members it clearly threatens academic quality. When mismanagement and large scale diversion of funds occurs, necessary resources for teaching and research will be unavailable, and corruption become a mission critical issue.

3- Provide adequate infrastructure
The basics must be there, no excuses: water, power, toilets, suitable buildings and classrooms, chairs and teaching materials. Many universities in the developing world simply lack adequate infrastructure for teaching and research. If in a country there are frequent daily power cuts disruption of classes and computer networks will make continuous operation of the university impossible. Library systems must be able to provide essential information. Challenges remain as to how to assure access to expensive literature databases for researchers in developing countries. Similarly, reliable broadband internet must be provided to assure operation of the university. When universities can not fulfil their mission, widespread discontent among students and staff will ensue.

4- Provide internet access for mobile devices
The environment for tertiary education is rapidly changing, mainly because globally students have massively adopted smartphones and tables for communicating and accessing the internet. While PC's and campus networks may not be functional, students are accessing internet through their own mobile devices. This creates great opportunities for universities in developing countries, which no longer need to provide PC labs, but merely university wide access through Wifi or other technologies.

Because of the internet, most information necessary for teaching and research is now accessible anywhere at low cost. Thanks to open source software all necessary tools are available for developing countries universities. The classroom can be flipped, and MOOC's provide better lectures than Faculty can provide. It seems the future for brick and mortar universities is for those that combine online and presential activities successfully. Despite over 9 centuries of tradition, lectures to large groups seem to be out, while interactive small group teaching has a future.

5- Provide research support and training
Uniquely universities have a dual mission of teaching and research to create new knowledge and to support teaching. More than lip service must be paid to research, and adequate funding must be provided for research related activities. Moreover, some university staff must support the organisation of research. All universities can compete for international research funding, if they learn how to do it.

6- Provide teaching support and training
At any university a unit must exist to process student evaluations and channel feedback to lecturers and heads of schools and departments. In order to avoid the quality of teaching to slip, teaching activities and update of the curriculum must be monitored continuously. The international classroom can become a reality by participating in international scholarship and mobility programs.

7- Develop a strategy as a learning process, and create a strategy management system
Overnight success takes many years of careful preparation. In the case of the successful research intensive universities, strategies developed decades ago explaining success today. Because technology has changed the environment, universities must have a game plan understood and supported by all staff describing exactly how they intend to thrive in the new context.

Most universities are at a loss regarding strategy since in the past they never needed one. Much of it is "bad strategy", or merely a list of goals and statements about excellence. For a strategy to have an impact, it must be developed bottom up, and the process must be supported by management. The value is in the process not the final document. In addition, a strategy management system, such as a Balanced Scorecard must be implemented so that progress can be monitored.

We better learn things quickly, because we face the double challenge of needing to improve quality while at the same time increase Gross Enrollment Ratio for tertiary education, which in many countries remain dismally low, as I discussed elsewhere.


Dr. Albert Schram
Vice-Chancellor / CEO
Papua New Guinea University of Technology (UNITECH)
Adjunct Professor James Cook University, The Cairns Institute
Wikipedia English and Spanish

1 comment:

  1. I recently wrote a paper on university strategy management: http://bit.ly/1al70zL

    ReplyDelete