Global university networks that are exclusive “clubs” that fail to engage with other institutions “fail” higher education as a whole, according to the provost of Universitas 21.
Bairbre Redmond (pictured above) said that institutional networks cannot “close ranks” and must work with universities outside their group.
Speaking at the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Universities Summit as part of a panel discussion on the place of global networks in reimagining the future, Professor Redmond admitted that a “common criticism” of Universitas 21, a global network of 25 research universities, was that its make-up was “colonial” in nature, which she found disappointing.
She said: “It isn’t possible to bring every single university across the world [into one network] but you have to [ask]: what are you doing, and what opportunities are you creating for higher education that can be shared?
“And can you also work with other colleagues to create a sub-group of the network or work with another network, so we don’t create a club that other people can’t join?
“Unless all networks keep that focus, then they are failing...higher education [in general].”
She added that university networks must balance the “collective good” from collaboration with “intrinsic university competitiveness”, noting that although institutions compete in terms of research, “everyone gains” if all universities improve their teaching.
Rajani Naidoo, director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management at the University of Bath, suggested that BRICS nations should focus on building national networks rather than individual universities joining global groups.
Speaking from the audience during the debate, she said that higher education systems in the BRICS countries are “very unequal, with the richest students going to the most elite universities”, and excellence initiatives have further stratified the system.
“We need to look at the national level so the whole system benefits and not just particular universities,” she said.
Raj Kumar, founding vice-chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University in India, said during a separate panel debate on building higher education links with Africa that the humanities and social sciences offer the best route for collaboration between developing nations.
“If universities focus on the hard sciences they…are constantly looking at advanced economies for technology transfer,” he said.
“I think that the conversation needs to change. We really need to invest and reimagine the collaborative framework and [recognise] the need for emphasising the humanities and social sciences.”
However, Denis Epko, professor of comparative literature at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, who proposed the idea of post-Africanism in 1995, later said that the humanities in African universities “haven’t made themselves very relevant to the needs of the times” and are “more concerned about cultural recognition than cultural growth”.