Today in Good Governance: Higher Education Edition

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A new paper from Vox argues that the best scholars tend to make the best university leaders (with one glaring exception):

It is well known that the top European research universities underperform compared to their American counterparts...Leadership is an important part of governance, and again Europe lags. US universities choose different types of leaders; indeed, as I will argue, the achievement of America’s top institutions today may be explained partially by the legacy of outstanding scholars who have led them.

Why might top scholars improve university performance? Four reasons emerged from the interviews. First, a president (vice chancellor, rector, principal) who is a distinguished scholar will have a better understanding of the core business of a university, that of research and teaching.

A second explanation raised by interviewees, one that again relates to expert knowledge, is that a scholar-leader will likely demand higher academic standards.

(Third), top scholars send out important signals to a number of audiences, according to interviewees. They signal a university’s priorities, act as a beacon when hiring other outstanding academics, and are attractive to students and donors. Finally, it was suggested that scholars are more credible leaders. A president who is a researcher will gain greater respect from academic colleagues and appear more legitimate. Legitimacy extends a leader’s power and influence.

It would be interesting to see the relationship between political leadership and government experience. Do those who have successfully risen in the ranks of government make the best heads of state?

What about in business? Naom Scheiber recently quipped that MBA CEOs are why "Americans can't make things". Now that the value of the MBA is coming under fire, will companies chose to hire its top managers internally? Is internal promotion underrated?  

Update: One of our commentators has recommended a study by the World Bank's Jamil Salmi. Here is the link to the report: "The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities".

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