As more American universities engage in international efforts, the challenges—and potential rewards—come into sharper focus. Jamil Salmi, former tertiary education coordinator for the World Bank, describes some of those challenges and rewards as well as the key global trends of concern to boards.
What does the emphasis on developing world-class universities outside the United States mean for higher ed?
I can see positive and negative effects. On the one hand, as more institutions outside America seek to transform themselves into world-class universities, meaningful opportunities for collaborative research and the exchange of scholars will present themselves. The Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) is a good example of a network of universities on both sides of the Pacific that promotes common research projects and the sharing of knowledge. On the other hand, the competition for talented students and top academics will become more intense, especially for U.S. public universities in those states where public resources have decreased steadily in the past years.
In the next 5 to 10 years, what do you see as the big governance challenges?
In the United States, recent problems at the University of Virginia, the Pennsylvania State University, and other institutions indicate a need to clarify the responsibilities and duties of board members and to revisit the distribution of power among state authorities, boards, and college and university leaders. In other parts of the world, most public universities are not governed by a board, but rather operate under a shared governance model whereby democratically elected university leaders must work with an academic senate that participates in all decisions. That model is usually not conducive to change and innovation. There, the main challenge is to move toward a corporate form of governance that allows for a stronger board with external representation and the selection of university leaders on the basis of professional criteria.
What key global trends do American board members need to pay attention to?
American board members should support their institutions as they try to “internationalize,” not because it is in fashion, but because it can help make America less insular and build bridges across nations and cultures. Only global citizens will be able to solve our planet’s major issues.
What might global rankings mean for American higher ed?
While colleges in the United States have lived for some time with national rankings—especially the U.S. News and World Report rankings—they have paid little attention to the global rankings that have emerged in the past 10 years (Shanghai, Times Higher Education, QS, etc.). I believe that the effect on American universities will be more indirect, through increased international competition for the best brains, for the most talented or promising academics. As foreign universities focus increasingly on how to advance in the rankings, they will attempt to persuade young and experienced academics from the diaspora to come back home. Several of the case studies analyzed in the book that I edited with Philip G. Altbach, The Road to Academic Excellence (World Bank Publications, 2011), document how emerging research universities in East Asia and elsewhere have successfully built on bringing back talented members of their diaspora.
For American institutions looking to advance internationalization agendas, what issues should they be thinking about?
Internationalization is not about having an internationalization office coordinating the organization of the “semester abroad” program for a small proportion of the students. Internationalization is a mindset that should run through all major aspects of the college or university. Funding, too, will also be an important part of the equation, but the goal should be to train global citizens and professionals. All administrators and academics should be willing participants in the effort to make their institution an international institution.