The prestigious ranking bodies of higher education are arguably the most effective tool for influencing global university policies, but with more and more people beginning to understand that prestige does not guarantee a satisfactory student experience, many critics view global rankings as increasingly obsolete.

The New Flagship University, edited by the respected scholar and historian from the University of California at Berkeley, provides an expansive vision for leading national universities, discussing an innovative alternative to the current ranking system for the world’s leading universities.

Douglass’s main argument is that global rankings warp the fundamental mission of the world’s universities, which should be to focus on regional and national needs and provide a service to society.

The current system encourages governments to feed a huge amount of money into elite institutions so they can boast at least one ‘World-Class University’, also known as a ‘Flagship University’. Douglass claims that this creates the view of the ‘World-Class University’ as a paradigm, forcing universities to compete to get more than one institution into global league tables. This greatly hinders the prospects of a large number of institutions since the notion of prestige among national universities is no longer deemed sufficient.

Douglass suggests a more holistic approach to global higher education policy and practice; rather than focusing on aspects like research productivity as a means of improving an institution’s global reputation, professional higher education bodies should concern themselves with shaping the mission, academic culture and general practices of the university.

Turkey has been cited as one of many countries whose higher education sector leans heavily on global rankings, and the region’s efforts to climb international league tables has been considerably boosted over the past ten years, with institutions like Istanbul University, Middle East Technical University, Bilkent University and Istanbul Technical University heavily investing in research output in order to climb global rankings.

Turkey’s higher education ‘elite’ already share some characteristics of Doglass’s suggested ‘New Flagship Universities’; they are considered among the best of all domestic institutions in terms of quality; they play a fundamental role in national politics and the creation of new policies; and they also boast considerable international connections. However, the country’s per student expenditure is in desperate need of a boost, since current funding falls below the average compared to other OECD countries.

The Turkish government has discussed a one-year action plan which includes a detailed schedule for reform amongst the region’s higher education sector, though a number of critics have already cast doubt over the effectiveness of reforms that do not primarily seek to provide a service to the local community – something Douglass cites as the main goal of the higher education institution.

As Bekir S Gur, assistant professor at Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara, Turkey, writes for University World News: “To sum up, rather than publishing global league tables on their websites and announcing the places of Turkish Universities in those tables, more discussion and research are needed on the proper role of national public universities in a globalised world.”

Though recent years have seen an increasing number of Turkish universities enter the global rankings, upcoming education reforms should adopt a true international vision and aim to support local communities if they are to become a forceful contender in global higher education.

Image via Shutterstock.

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