The quality of global university leadership is generally poor, according to a US scholar who has devised an alternative model for the creation of flagship universities.
John Aubrey Douglass (pictured above), senior research fellow in public policy and higher education at the University of California, Berkeley, also told the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Universities Summit that the best institutions have a strong “internal academic culture”.
When asked for his reflection on the state of university leadership globally, he said: “Very poor generally because there is very little management capacity.”
He said German university rectors “have very little power and authority”, and that this is generally “the main story in terms of leadership” at institutions across the world.
His comments were made after a keynote speech on the theme of the flagship university at the conference.
Dr Douglass added that “external pressures by ministers” through programmes such as world-class excellence initiatives “only have so much effect in terms of creating a quality institution”, but said that some universities are “waiting for the next ministerial demand or idea” to implement change.
“At the best quality institutions, it really is about their internal academic culture. That is the most important thing,” he said.
“It’s about the holistic question of what these institutions do internally, how they make decisions and what level of shared governance they have. It is up to these institutions to internally drive policymaking.”
During his speech, he also warned universities that rankings and the “world-class” paradigm “pushes faculty and researchers away from local and regional needs”, as they become too focused on publishing in prestigious international journals.
In this climate, most academic leaders “have difficulty conceptualising and articulating their grander purpose and multiple engagements with society”, he said.
“This is a big concern,” he continued. “The regional and local role and value of research has been one of the hallmarks of places like Berkeley.”
He added: “When you talk about rankings and the world-class university rhetoric...it is a very limited way of looking at what national universities are doing and what value they place in various activities.”
Dr Douglass, who is author of the book The New Flagship University: Changing the Paradigm from Global Ranking to National Relevancy, also spoke about his “aspirational model” for leading national universities.
In his vision, new flagship universities are research intensive but equally committed to teaching and learning and public service; comprehensive in that they seek strength across disciplines; internationally engaged but focused first on regional or national economic development; broadly accessible; and autonomous and publicly financed.
He added that they have an internal culture of evidence-based management and are tied to the political, cultural and socio-economic world they serve.
However, he acknowledged that the model has “a lot of flaws”, in that it does not address the challenge of university funding and that aspects such as quality “do not lend themselves to matrices”.