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Global experts in higher education propose new university model to improve funding and competitiveness

13/11/2012 - IE University

International experts from over twenty higher education institutions in different world continents met in Madrid at the conference on Reinventing Higher Education: new ways of differentiation to discuss challenges and new trends in the sector. It was the third consecutive year that IE University had hosted the international meeting, which brings together presidents and chancellors of universities worldwide, along with specialized journalists and academics. Experts took part in a series of panels to share their vision of the global education landscape with a view to forecasting the challenges that lie ahead for universities and to develop solutions. Globalization, the search for new ways of funding and securing resources, mergers of universities to improve competitiveness, and the focus on multiculturalism were some of the issues raised. Further issues addressed at the conference included new methods of student recruitment, the governance of institutions, the  impact of the technological revolution on the generation and diffusion of knowledge, and the unstoppable growth of emerging markets in Asia and the Arab world.

Speakers included Arnoud De Meyer, President of the Singapore Management University, Roger Goodman, director of the Division of Social Sciences, Oxford University, Annie Lin, Educational Projects Wikipedia, Kenneth Wong, Director of the Department of Education at Brown University, Salah Khalil, founder of the Alexandria Trust, and representatives of the World Economic Forum, the British Council, the Academy of the Russian Government, the European University Association, and Ibmec (Brazil).

The experts agreed that we are currently at a crucial point in time for the field of higher education and today, more than ever before, it is key to focus on internationalization, innovation, technology and exchanges among institutions. In short, participants insisted on the need to design and implement creative financing models and to generate knowledge to "reinvent" the university of this century to create a global university that is dynamic, entrepreneurial and open to multiculturalism.

The President of IE University, Santiago Íñiguez, explained the importance of the meeting in Madrid. “Higher education is undergoing some unusual transformations since the creation of the first universities nine centuries ago. There are many opportunities in this new environment, but also threats to those institutions who are unable to adapt to change.”

The opening address was delivered by Arnoud De Meyer, President of the Singapore Management University, who shared his experience in Asia and noted the need to promote a change in the existing models and to reinvent the traditional university. Meyer said the key to this change lies in addressing issues like internationalization and commitment to knowledge.

Funding Models

The first panel discussed the different models of university funding. Thomas Estermann, from the European University Association, recalled that most European universities are financed using public money and that only ten percent of revenue comes from their own students. He considered it important to reverse this situation so that universities increase what he called "philanthropic funding" to ensure their survival and to be competitive. Roger Goodman, from Oxford University, said that the entry of sponsors in universities is an effective way to improve funding because today the contributions of students are insufficient to cover the costs of their courses.

Vandick Silveira of IBMEC, one of Brazil’s leading higher education institutions, underscored IBMEC’s international vocation and its commitment to strengthening ties with institutions around the world. Unlike other institutions, IBMEC, which is funded 100% by its students, has just created a lending model similar to that of the United States. Michael Speaks from the University of Kentucky (USA) said that one of his goals in a state with a strong public university tradition is to partner with companies to improve resources.

Sergei Myasoedov, from the  Academy of the Russian President heads a university that was created just three years ago, is the largest in Europe with over two hundred thousand students, and is focused on the business world. He said the problem is that Russia has over a thousand universities, about six hundred of which are public and four hundred private. The quality of public universities in Russia is lower because there are fewer resources, given that the government funds approximately 20% of the costs of each school. Moreover, private universities in Russia offer a more open and liberal mentality.

New environments, new actors

The second panel discussed new perspectives in the field of higher education. Kenneth K. Wong from Brown University spoke about successful models that have emerged in Europe, such as that of IE Business School, with its focus on entrepreneurship. He noted that students do not have to limit their knowledge to what they learn in the classroom, but instead should be encouraged to leave the classroom to interact, which is another way of learning. He underlined the fact that "It is very important to think about interdisciplinary opportunities."

Annie Lin from the Wikimedia Foundation highlighted the role that Wikipedia now plays in  students’ education. She added that Wikipedia is teaching students the importance of neutrality in knowledge, unlike the traditional work carried out by universities. From her perspective, Wikipedia is learning from different institutions, by contacting schools and publishers, culminating in mutual benefit for both Wikipedia and the institutions. Pat Killingley from the British Council (UK) said her organization works with the aim of improving understanding among countries, with more than a hundred offices and educational specialists in each. She talked about how the environment is changing rapidly, and the growing mobility of students, a movement that can be seen from east to west. She reminded conference participants that some five hundred thousand students have decided to study in China in order to improve the economy of their respective countries, and pointed out that there are expected to be thirty-seven new university campuses in the world, most of them in Asia.

Carlos Cruz de Limón from Tecnológico de Monterrey raised the question of how universities should prepare students for jobs that do not exist today, particularly technology-based jobs, referring to these students as "yellow lights". He suggested that one of the keys is to promote an education that develops critical thinking in students.

Education and Philanthropy in the Arab World

The last panel of the conference addressed education in the Arab world. Participants agreed that education is currently a privilege, not a right, and we must do all we can to reverse this situation to ensure that education becomes a right for all. Salah Khalil, founder of the Alexandria Trust stressed the need to build networks among academics in the region, to increase the contributions of expatriate academics towards improving the education system in the Arab world, and to re-position the university as a place to support the new ideas and needs of young people. Egyptian academic Ezzamel Mahmoud, from Cardiff University, said it is time that universities in the region regained the great humanist tradition and culture of the Muslim world, without having to copy Anglo-Saxon practices. Celia de Anca of IE Business School stressed that the university has to take a leading role in the Arab World, particularly after the"Arab Spring," when youth chose to use social networks rather than universities as a catalyst for democratic change.

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