A World Bank coordinator and Moroccan education economist engaged the University of Wisconsin community Monday, during a lecture based on his research on worldwide education reform, in a UW Division of International Studies’ Global Studies in Higher Education initiative.
Jamil Salmi, who is the principal author of a new study on education strategy for the World Bank, defined world-class universities as those which produce leading graduates as well as high-quality research and dynamic knowledge.
He added universities can improve these resources by concentrating talent, having abundant resources and favorable governance policies.
However, despite the need for abundant resources to fund higher education, Salmi also emphasized that a common concern, especially in Western Europe, is a growing dependence on government funding.
“Money is not enough,” Salmi said. “We have this fixation on ‘just [give] me more money, and I will be better.’ In fact, if you look at the most expensive universities in this country, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of all of them.”
He said other factors contributing to academic improvements at universities include a good balance between undergraduate and graduate students, which is something Salmi said UW could improve since graduate students are currently 25 percent of the university’s student population.
Salmi added that attracting foreign students and faculty to universities, increasing the international dimensions of higher education, also improves education.
Currently, Salmi said universities in the United States receive more private funding than universities in Europe and spend about three times more money per student.
Salmi said the top universities in the world are very concentrated, coming mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom and a few from other western European countries.
“Building a university is not like making instant coffee,” Salmi said. “You really have to build patiently. Seventeen years ago, MIT was a local technical institute. Nobody knew about it. It’s decades and decades of hard work that has taken them where they are now.”
Salmi also said new rankings systems allow universities to be evaluated based on statistical data, instead of allowing colleges to simply declare themselves a top university or for them to be judged based on their reputation.
“We have to be thankful to the rankings for giving us an objective way for identifying the top universities in the world,” Salmi said.
However, Amy Stambach, associate dean of the School of Education, said including academic freedom in any ongoing ranking systems is now crucial. She added the lecture was thought-provoking and encouraged the audience to think critically.
Mark Johnson, an assistant professor of educational policy studies, said Salmi’s lecture offered a valuable lesson in warning educational experts against pursuing policies which focus simply on increasing resources for universities.
Johnson added Salmi’s research both analyzed this current trend of “pouring” resources for higher education and warned against it, instead offering other ways to consider improving universities.
“Our mistake would be to pour all our money in to UW-Madison and neglect the UW System,” Johnson said. “The other two-year and four-year universities all serve different missions and cutting off resources would starve them, and thankfully we have a political system which doesn’t allow that to happen.”