Making a university world class
Teachers, through their teaching, can a change human life. Since higher education deals essentially with knowledge, the change is knowledge-focused. The expected change is qualitative, and for both individual and social betterment.
Through such change, teachers make human beings more productive and useful for building a knowledge-based society.
However, teachers' responsibility is not limited to skill development and knowledge creation. The major product of the university -- the graduates produced by teachers -- provide leadership in accelerating economic, social, cultural, political and moral development who behave as responsible citizens as well. This means that quality assurance of higher education is a function of, among other inputs, the appropriate roles of teachers. By implication, teachers need to be role models.
A university stands out when it has a critical mass of high profile enlightened Professors.
For this paper, a world-class university is an institution of higher learning, where teachers from many countries come to teach, researchers join to undertake research and students throng to learn. The institution imparts high quality education to produce well qualified highly-skilled graduates, and disseminates socially meaningful research outputs in the form of publications, and patent rights embedded in inventions.
In addition, a good university is engaged in "Public Service", often called community service. Such a university carries many attributes. One is its institutionalized outstanding capacity of innovative teaching, research and public service. To attain such capacity, a university obviously needs to fulfill many conditions. Most important of them is to hire and retain reputable professors and researchers. It is very important because in the process of hiring and retaining high profile professors and researchers the university, of necessity, fulfills most of the other conditions that must be fulfilled to make a university world class. No university can claim to be a high imaged university if it does not have an adequate number of adequately qualified professors and researchers. Inversely, only those universities that carry high image can attract world renowned professors and brilliant students.
It is to be noted that the conditions that make internationally recognised professors interested in joining and sticking to a particular university coincide with those that assure quality of education.
In other words, if a university assigns higher priority to hire and retain reputable teachers and researchers it simultaneously tends to assure quality of education which in turn makes the university a world class one. Therefore it is argued that hiring and retaining well recognised professors and researchers in increasing number is a pre-requisite for a university -- (teaching and/ or research institution) to be well recognized. Even mere association of high profile scholars, (professors and/or researchers) say, Nobel Laureates, enhances the image of the concerned university. A team of reputable professors along with brilliant students plays important roles in getting the university accredited by globally respected accreditation agency. A non-accredited university is usually perceived to be a university that imparts low quality education.
Accreditation is an effective step for quality assurance. It is obvious that without the help and cooperation of the senior professors and researchers, gaining accreditation is practically impossible. Therefore, it is a situation of "no good teachers, no accreditation".
Professors with good track records normally make sure, before they accept an offer of a new position, that the environment -- academic and non-academic-- at the university that wants to hire them matches their perceived standing in the academic community. No professor of high standing would move to a new position at another university that does not have well defined institutional vision, mission and strategies reflected in all its programmes. Beside, the university must offer nationally and globally acceptable academic programs taught by reputable teachers.
The teacher will also demand academic freedom to publish; s/he may want best management practices combined with faculty governance in place. A good teacher would like to ensure a balanced teaching load and research opportunities.
Similarly, dedicated teachers do not like disproportionately large number of part time teachers. Teaching by more part timers lowers the quality of teaching and eventually image of the university. A private university should not use more than 25% of the total number of teachers as part timer.
Reputable teachers demand infrastructural facilities and management support necessary for undertaking research readily available. They will demand class rooms equipped with computer terminals, research laboratories supported by computers and other necessary equipment and instruments.
Besides, state of the art ICT-based on line digitised libraries will have to be provided for good teachers and students. A sizable number of talented students (potential research assistants) who can support the professors with research should be available.
However, hiring and retaining reputable teachers is not enough to get the most from their association. The Vice Chancellor must install a mechanism of monitoring the accountability of the teachers. They must perform their duties and responsibilities as stated in the university Service Rules and in their individual appointment letters. An effective performance evaluation must be in place. In the absence of such monitoring, mere presence of "good" teachers will not produce the desired result.
Moreover, professors with international reputation attract other good professors from foreign universities, and best students from foreign countries. This facilitates the process of internationalisation, a pre-requisite for global recognition of a university. The more internationalised a university is the higher is its reputation. When a university succeeds in attracting teachers of international reputation an increasing number of brilliant students from many countries compete to enroll at that university, which in turn makes the university an enterprise of exporting education. (It is assumed that foreign students pay tuition and other fees in foreign currency).
This means that good teachers play special roles through spread effects in internationalizing and thereby making it a global university. However, it is to be noted that highly talented students attract high profile teachers. Similarly, well qualified reputable teachers attract talented students.
It may be added here that if for some reason the bright students are taught by inadequately qualified teachers, the bright students in general lose their brightness due to the teachers' inability to teach properly; as a result their high standard tends to go down. This causes a social loss. This again shows the importance of good teachers.
To be regionally or internationally recognised, a university must follow best management practices and good governance. Here "best management practices" is used in a special sense. It is a management system that includes faculty governance, and institutionalises at the university a sustainable quality assurance process. This calls for a decision-making process which is transparent, logical, rule-based and fair for all.
All decisions are taken by the respective committees complying the rules and regulations stated in the Private university Act 2010 enacted by the National Parliament, the University Statutes, Service Rules and Finance Rules framed by the faculty and Representatives of founders of the university, and approved by the Board of Trustees. The system, makes organisational goals and individual (teachers') goals tend to converge. For example, all teachers feel motivated to work collectively for quality assurance. To ensure quality, admission of students is selective and no students who fail in the admission test is allowed to study at the university only on revenue or other considerations. Deviation from such a practice would indicate poor management, short-sightedness or corruption in the admission process. If such malpractice prevails good teachers will feel discouraged to join such a university.
Teachers of high standing would demand sufficient opportunities for faculty governance to ensure participation of teachers in decision-making in university management through various committees. The Private University Act 2010 provides guidelines indicating how to institutionalise faculty governance and good governance in general.
While faculty governance works at the enterprise ( University) level, the good governance extends further. It covers the working relationships between the university, University Grants Commission and Ministry of Education and Chancellor's Office. It is the teachers who can effectively comply with the conditions for good governance as stipulated the 2010 Act. They however, need the cooperation of the founders of the university in this regard.
The point made here is that there are many conditions, including recruiting reputable teachers, that must be fulfilled to make a university good one. Most of these conditions have been indicated above. Of them, hiring and retaining high profile teachers stand out.
Good teachers demand supports from the management as mentioned above. Once a critical mass of good teachers continues serving, the university attains the image of the globally competitive university.
Therefore, I conclude that the university authority should assign higher priority to hire and retain high profile professors. This process will fulfill other conditions to make the university a world class university.
The writer is former Vice Chancellor, North South University.