Are we winning the race?

Talent, money and appointing the right management – these are the basic ingredients of a “World Class University”, as presented by Dr. Jamil Salmi from the World Bank at an open debate on the future of universities.

[Translate to English:] Dr. Jamil Salmi er økonom og ansat ved Verdensbanken, hvor han beskæftiger sig med videregående uddannelser. Selv om han på et debatmøde talte om opbyggelsen af verdensklasse-universiteter, er han loren ved begrebet. ”Der findes omkring 20.000 universiteter i verden, og vi interesserer os kun for de 50 bedste”, siger han. Foto: Roar Paaske/ AU Foto

Actually he isn’t really a fan of the concept of “World Class Universities” (WCUs). He says that everyone wants to be one, but that nobody can define what they mean by the term. And yet WCUs were the topic discussed by the French-Moroccan economist Dr. Jamil Salmi from the World Bank when Universities Denmark and Aarhus University held an event entitled “Are we winning the race? An open debate on the role of universities in a global perspective” on 25 May at Aarhus University.

In his address Dr. Jamil Salmi pointed out that talent, plenty of resources and (in particular) favourable management are the most important elements of any WCU. He said that the management had to be flexible and unbound by too many administrative rules. It also needed to be independent – with a majority of external members. This last point tended to support the way the Danish universities were reformed in 2003, even though Danish students and researchers complained bitterly at the time that this reform constituted the decline of democracy.

However, Dr. Jamil Salmi also believes that universities can easily become too democratic and therefore too conservative and stagnant. He would also like to put an end to excessive state bureaucracy and control of the universities – something which he believes chokes all free initiative and independent research. He said that F.C. Barcelona had one of the best football teams in the world, and asked what the team would be like if it was run like a European university. The manager would not be allowed to choose his own team, but would have to negotiate with the Minister for Sport instead. It is essential that football managers and university researchers are given a free hand, he explained.

Open your borders and learn to speak and write good English

Another vital ingredient for any university wishing to join the world elite is a focus on international activities. And this is why he views a culture of inbreeding within the EU with great scepticism.

He acknowledges that the EU focuses a great deal on mobility within its own borders; but he feels that the member states should consider whether the pool of talent available within the EU is large enough. He believes that Turkey should be allowed to join the community with a view to achieving the kind of diversity and international openness that is needed.  He would also like to see more liberal visa regulations in many countries to make it easier for researchers to transcend borders.

And then there’s language. In his view, inadequate English skills limit the opportunities of some universities just as much as inadequate IT skills limit the opportunities of others. His point is that anyone with a Bachelor’s degree should be able to speak fluent English. Universities do not need to replace their own native languages with English, but in his view one-third of all courses should be taught in English.