European universities ‘need agility revolution’ to compete

Private university founder calls for governance overhaul as the rector of one of Poland’s leading public universities says it is considering an endowment to secure a more stable financial foundation

July 3, 2023
Source: iStock

A private university founder has said European institutions need to overhaul themselves and become more agile if they want to compete with companies and university rivals in China and the US to attract the best students.

Speaking at the Times Higher Education Europe Summit, hosted by the University of Warsaw, Andrzej Koźmiński, founder and former rector of Kozminski University, said European universities’ governance left them sluggish compared with new rivals for top international talent.

Modular training provided by big technology companies and corporations, combined with the “breathtaking” development of universities in China and elsewhere meant European universities must overhaul themselves to compete for the “crème de la crème” of international students.

“The emerging environment of current education calls for an adjustment which might and should transform itself into a revolution of agility, breaking traditional stiff structures and formalised procedures,” said Professor Koźmiński, a former Fulbright scholar and member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Such a transformation in decision-making “requires some adjustments” of the “traditional academic governance system”, he said, and there needed to be an “open-minded debate” about how universities developed policies.

Changes should include the elimination of “academic red tape and endless collective decision-making processes” and would touch on “autonomy versus state bureaucracy, democratic procedures, collegiality and traditional ceremonial side of academic life”, but should still respect European institutions’ “democratic soul”.

European universities must adopt more agile governance to attract the best students and collaboration partners or else they “risk being turned into museums”, Professor Koźmiński said. “Attractive partners have no time to wait and waste,” he added.

Aside from the need to compete for international students with private providers and those in North America and Asia, European universities also faced “skyrocketing” costs and Professor Koźmiński said universities, including those outside the elite, which he described as “mass retailers”, “should be turning a profit”.

Even elite universities lacked their own resources to compete with rivals and would have to work more closely with companies and other institutions to muster the money required, he added.

Also speaking at the THE Europe Summit, the rector of the University of Warsaw, Alojzy Nowak, said the university was considering a US-style endowment to guarantee its financial stability.

Referring to the financial firepower of private Ivy League institutions in the US, such as Stanford University, Professor Nowak said universities in Poland faced a “huge problem” in terms of resources in the long term, noting Warsaw gets about 90 per cent of its funding from public sources, either in Poland or the European Union.

He contrasted Stanford’s annual budget of more than $8 billion (£6.3 billion) for roughly 17,000 students and 3,000 faculty with Warsaw’s approximately Z2 billion (£387 million) for 50,000 students and 10,000 full faculty. “Maybe an endowment will be very important,” he said, noting that Stanford’s weighed in at more than $30 billion.

Both Professor Koźmiński and Professor Nowak said European universities needed to cooperate more with businesses and each other to get ahead globally, although the former said Europe’s top universities should also take pride in the fact that their student bodies were “much more open and diverse” than their counterparts in the Ivy League.

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