Going the Distance: Sustaining and Growing a World-Class University

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ImageHow do countries establish world-class universities while avoiding common pitfalls? In my previous postings about the Top 10 errors that universities most often make, I focused on obstacles usually encountered at the beginning of the enterprise. In today’s blog, I outline three common errors likely to happen at a later stage, once the new flagship institution has already been operating for a few years and has reached a sort of steady pace. Errors at this stage can impede progress not only in sustaining, but in growing an institution that is well-run and impactful.

What are those three common errors? And how can universities ultimately go the distance?

1.      Lose sight of your core mission.  As new institutions grow in both number and size, the risk of academic drift increases at the same time.  Larger enrollments, accompanied by adequate human and financial resources to maintain quality and relevance, can be healthy as long as the institution is able to maintain its core academic focus with regards to its key elements of comparative advantage.  Unfortunately, institutions sometimes lose sight of their core mission or niche areas of expertise and start expanding into programs and disciplines that are not directly related to their original sphere of academic strength.  This can lead to financial drains on the institution and imbalances in the overall tertiary systems in which the institution operates.  It is, therefore, imperative that all new program initiatives be examined within the context of the institutions’ strategic plan.
2.      Become complacent.  As new institutions expand and achieve positive results, they may find themselves becoming too comfortable in their activities.  It is easy to become complacent, on the assumption that what has been accomplished is good enough and likely to satisfy future needs without any adjustment. This is a recipe for mediocrity and, sometimes, failure.  The mark of truly innovative institutions is their capacity to challenge and reinvigorate themselves continuously, seeking ways of improving their programs, curricula and pedagogical approaches in both proactive and reactive ways.
3.      Don’t plan for orderly institutional succession.  New institutions often owe much of their success to the exceptional leadership qualities of their founder: that leader’s ability to inspire, mobilize and show the way is always a determining cause of positive development.  Over the long run, however, this element of strength can evolve into a limiting factor if the leader does not put in place autonomous management structures throughout the institution and does not make provisions for orderly transition procedures.  The top management team should always seek to institutionalize the criteria and process for selection of future leaders.

I invite you to post comments with examples that illustrate these or other types of mistakes that can befall attempts to sustain or grow a new world-class university.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/TonyTheTiger


Jamil Salmi

Tertiary Education Coordinator

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