Are University Excellence Initiatives Effective?

In recent years many countries including Germany, Russia, China and India have introduced policies to improve the quality of research and higher education by concentrating resources on a relatively small group of elite institutions. Such initiatives often encourage leading universities to reach a specified level in the better-known global rankings.

The effectiveness of these initiatives has varied. It is well known that Chinese universities have dramatically improved their performance in the QS, Times Higher Education (THE) and Shanghai rankings following the introduction of the Double First Class initiative although it seems some universities outside the programme have done just as well. On the other hand, the success of the Russian 5 Top 100 programme has so far been limited. For example, only Lomonosov Moscow State University is in the QS world top 100.

A recent article in THE by Simon Baker reviews the progress of such initiatives. It seems that they have been fairly successful in improving the quantity of research and climbing up the global rankings. Baker cites international higher education expert Jamil Salmi who notes that excellence initiatives have had some success in improving performance in the Shanghai rankings.

There is, however, concern in Germany that the Excellence Initiative, now known as the Excellence Strategy, is undermining the country’s egalitarian model of tertiary education by directing resources to a select group of clusters and institutions. According to Michael Hartmann, Emeritus Professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt, there is a danger that German universities are dividing into two separate classes.

There is also concern in China that excellence initiatives might increase regional disparities and this has been addressed in the recent Double First Class programme. Australian Professor Cameron Neylon has argued that an emphasis on research excellence is likely to produce distortions in higher education.

The article concludes with an observation by Salmi that while the USA may boast the most excellent research universities in the world the system as a whole has “many elements of dysfunction.”


Times Higher Education




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