A WORLDWIDE network of major research universities may develop a global accreditation system, backed by joint international appointments.
The Universitas 21 group, with members from Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom, is holding its second annual conference at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities.
Alan Gilbert, vice-chancellor of Melbourne University in Austrialia, where the group was formed last year, told the opening meeting that education was set to be one of the top industries of the 21st century, alongside communications, tourism, and health services.
"What we're talking about here is reinventing the idea of a university," he said. "Unless we can get internationally validated curricula and recognition of professional awards, we haven't surmounted one of the challenges of internationalism. There will be huge prizes to institutions who can surmount the challenges."
At present, there were piecemeal bilateral negotiations over course accreditation, Professor Gilbert said, but he suggested that Universitas 21 might consider a mutual accreditation system.
Global communications industries were showing signs of involvement in curriculum delivery, with the concomitant danger of monocultural domination by the US. Universitas 21 could have a defensive role by promoting best practice among its members, and offering "branding" that signified high educational quality.
Professor Gilbert said he believed the challenges of increasing globalisation could best be met through networking, collaboration between "kindred institutions". For a network to be successful, it should not be seen as having a centre in one country or institution, but everyone should contribute "enthusiasm, enterprise, commitment, resources and ideas". Institutions must also promote the interests of their network partners and "add value rather than denigrate the reputation of colleagues", he said.
The network could boost staff and student mobility, with the prospect of joint appointments creating new working patterns, allowing academics to move between countries.
Letters, page 14