20 October 2019
Universities have often claimed that adequate funding is a prerequisite for academic research and teaching. However, a paper presented at the recent World Class Universities Conference in Shanghai suggests that this may not always be the case. A conference session discussed the factors that underlay academic excellence.
William Kirby, Professor of China Studies at Harvard University, discussed challenges to liberal education in China. Luiz Claudio Costa. President of IREG, asked whether world class universities were built on quality, reputation or prestige. Jamil Salmi, a global higher education expert, reviewed the relationship between excellence and the rankings, noting that the pursuit of high scores in the rankings can lead to serious problems such as distortions in the allocation of resources and an unhealthy obsession with metrics.
Dr Salmi suggested that there were five accelerators in the drive for world class status: leadership, internationalisation, attracting talent, innovations in the curriculum, and strategic planning and benchmarking.
Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates of Canada dealt with the changing finances of world class universities. He noted that much of the data for universities in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) top 200 was of poor quality. Full data was available for only 129 universities in nine countries.
He reported that, with the exception of Japan, institutional expenditure and research income rose significantly between 2006 and 2017 and that universities recruited more staff and generally increased their research output. There was not, however, a significant correlation between increases in institutional funding and increases in scientific output. It was difficult to see any differential impact of extra funding within the ARWU top 100. In short, it seems that at this level and under these conditions money does not matter much.