Stanford president sceptical on global university partnerships

John Hennessy also tells THE of his regret at not launching New York campus

March 10, 2016
John Hennessy, Stanford University
Source: Getty

The outgoing president of Stanford University has questioned the effectiveness of global university alliances – a move that has been hailed by other leaders as the “next big thing” in higher education.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, John Hennessy, who will stand down as president of the Californian institution this summer, said “it’s hard enough” to achieve collaboration within “your own institution”.

Last month, King’s College London, the US’ Arizona State University and Australia’s University of New South Wales launched a global alliance aimed at tackling sustainability and educational attainment. When asked whether such a partnership would be attractive to Stanford and more common in the future, Professor Hennessy said: “We haven’t pursued anything like that.”

He added: “We’ve done some collaborations with Berkeley and UCSF [the University of California, San Francisco], but we find even those distances challenging enough to really get something going. So I worry how significant collaborations which are even more distant can be given the challenges of having people that far apart.”

His comments come just a week after Sir Nigel Thrift, former vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick and executive director of the Schwarzman Scholars programme, told THE that these collaborations would be the “next big thing” in higher education and would become “the normal model”.

Ed Byrne, president and principal of King’s College London, also predicted that this type of partnership would increasingly develop.

Professor Hennessy added that memoranda of understanding between universities are “useless unless the faculty really want to collaborate”.

“We tend to think of the research partnerships we pursue as driven primarily by faculty-to-faculty interaction,” he said.

He said that student exchanges could be “terrific ways to create interaction between institutions and give students a possibility to live in a different culture”, adding that Stanford’s study-abroad programme with the University of Oxford is its “most popular overseas study programme”.

When asked whether he had any regrets during his 16 years heading Stanford, he cited his failed attempt to open a New York City campus. In 2011, the city’s then-mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a competition for a university to build a campus in New York. Stanford submitted a proposal for an applied sciences and engineering graduate school, but then withdrew its application.

Professor Hennessy said that “New York City politics” meant that the proposal would not work, but he suggested that the plan might kick off “at some point in the future”.

He described Stanford’s idea as “bold” and “quite unique” in that there would have been “full interchangeability” of staff and students at the two campuses. Staff and students would have been able to choose at which campus to be based each year, and there would have been one department for computer science, with five academics on the East Coast and 25 academics on the West Coast.

He said that it would be vital to ensure that academics at each campus were of the same calibre.

“That’s the hard thing to achieve but the right way to do it,” he said.

“We didn’t want to build something where there was an A campus and a B campus. I still think that’s an interesting experiment to try to do.”

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Reader's comments (1)

Global Alliance is a great idea . Imagine King's College in London , Arizona State University, University of New South Wales all have many online courses as well . All these courses are shared by all students . But credits would be given by the individual universities . Diversity. Cost reduction. Better education . We need more Alliances among the top universities, even within USA .

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor of Military Technology THE SWEDISH DEFENCE UNIVERSITY
Director of Digital Services STAFFORDSHIRE UNIVERSITY
Technician for Psychology Programmes ST MARYS UNIVERSITY, TWICKENHAM

Most Commented

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Woman drinking tea from saucer

Plugging a multibillion-pound deficit exacerbated by June’s poll result may require ‘drastic measures’, analysts have warned

PhD lettered on book spine

Billy Bryan and Furaha Asani look at how to get the most out of your doctoral studies

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF