New breed of institutional leaders for internationalising Lankan UniversitiesMay 29, 2012, 12:00 pm
By Professor Ranjith Senaratne
University Grants Commission
Origin of the post of Vice Chancellor
Originally, the Vice Chancellor was the temporary commissary or deputy of the Chancellor. For instance, until 1504, the Statutes of the Cambridge University required its Chancellor to be normally resident in Cambridge, and the Vice Chancellor was appointed as the Chancellor’s deputy, to act only in his absence. Thus it was only from early 16th century that the Vice Chancellor became the chief executive officer of the University.
Thus the role of Vice Chancellor has evolved through the history of the University. The last decade has witnessed major changes in the higher education sector and these new circumstances have, both from a national and international perspective, radically changed the conditions that apply to academic governance - one of most important duties of a Vice Chancellor. Therefore we can expect the role of Vice Chancellor will continue to change in view of the challenges facing higher education, both nationally and internationally. For this reason, Vice Chancellors are treated differently from all the other heads of public agencies, as reflected for instance in the totally different procedures that apply to the appointment of Vice Chancellors as compared with other senior public administrators.
Higher education in a state of flux
Traditionally teaching and research have been the main missions of a university. This has changed gradually with the emergence of disciplines such as biotechnology, industry-sponsored academic research, increased globalisation, reduced basic funding and the new perspectives of the role of university in the system of knowledge production. As knowledge becomes an increasingly important part of innovation and industrial development, the university as a knowledge-producing and disseminating institution plays an increasing role in industrial innovation. Thus, in a knowledge-based economy, the university becomes a key player in the innovation system both as a human capital provider and a seed-bed of new firms. For instance, a study conducted in 1997 revealed that if the companies founded by the graduates and staff of the MIT, USA through commercialisation of knowledge formed an independent nation, their revenue would make them 24th largest economy in the world with an annual sale of US $ 233 billion, which is more than twice the GDP of Singapore
In today’s global landscape of relentless change and innovation, the mission of universities has thus become multi-faceted and the university must see itself as part of the larger global enterprise of creating, imparting, applying and commercialising knowledge. Research universities around the world are increasingly embracing an entrepreneurial dimension. They emphasise the natural complimentarity between creating, imparting and applying knowledge and the subsequent creation of spin-off companies and production of licenses and patents. Therefore to stay relevant and succeed, universities in the 21st century should play three roles, deliver quality undergraduate and postgraduate education, conduct high impact research and foster entrepreneurship and industry involvement.
As scientific knowledge and commercialisation of research results ("entrepreneurial science") are becoming increasingly important for innovation and new business development, universities can play an enhanced role in innovation. Hence, universities in the world that were policy makers earlier are now playing a direct role as actors in regional and national development. For instance, Oulu University in Finland through its entrepreneurial activities brought about considerable industrial growth and economic development in the region, which is now globally known as "Oulu Phenomenon".
Lessens to learn from successful
A look at the global situation will show that some of the highly prestigious as well as rapidly developing universities in the world have broken from tradition and are bringing new perspectives and vision to universities by installing those with experience in industry and world of work as Vice Chancellors. For instance, Harvard University of the USA, a most prestigious university in the world, appointed Larry Summers, former US Secretary to the Treasury as President. Some years ago, Cambridge University inducted Alec Broers, an Australian research engineer from IBM New York as its first Vice Chancellor from outside Britain while Oxford University in 2004 appointed as Vice Chancellor John Hood, a consultant Engineer and former Vice Chancellor of Auckland University, New Zealand. In earlier times, such a decision was simply unthinkable in the two most prestigious universities in Britain with strong traditions and values peculiar to them. Thus Oxford and Cambridge are fishing and competing in the global market place for talents and ideas. They have made the watershed decision to search globally for their academic leaders.
Prof. Shih Choon Fong, the former President of the NUS had worked at General Electrical Company in USA for seven years before joining the NUS. He made the NUS a top-notch university, ranking within the top five in Asia and Australia. In Japan, an increasing number of universities now have high level administrators who have been recruited from industrial research positions. There are many more such examples in the higher education landscape of the world, which show how the universities have responded to change and recognised the importance of having a leader with a deep understanding of the complexity and challenges of higher education as well as possessing financial, commercial and entrepreneurial skills
Even developing countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, Mauritius, Rwanda and Uganda are now ‘fishing in global waters’ to attract the best leader to take their universities to greater heights. They advertise vacancies of high profile posts such as Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, and Dean in international magazines such as the Economist, the Times Higher Education Supplement and Time to recruit institutional leaders of international calibre so as to elevate the standing and stature of their national universities.
Relevance to the Sri Lankan context
In Sri Lanka, there are 15 universities and 7 postgraduate institutes under the jurisdiction of the UGC, with at least one university located in each province. Most of these universities have well stocked libraries and well equipped laboratories with good ICT infrastructure. They have a total academic strength of over 4500, including around 500 Professors and 1750 Senior Lecturers with PhDs or equivalent qualifications and nearly another 2,000 with Masters’ degrees; and there are over 60,000 undergraduates and over 4,000 post-graduate students in our universities pursuing studies in a multitude of faculties including Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Natural Science, Agriculture, Humanities, Social Sciences, Management, and Law. Thus an outstandingly rich and diverse intellectual and infrastructural resource base is available in the universities in Sri Lanka, which is maintained at a cost exceeding Rs 20 billion (20,000 million) annually.
The Government of Sri Lanka has placed a great deal of emphasis in improving the world ranking of its universities and making Sri Lanka an educational hub in the region. In this connection, several initiatives have been made including increased funding for six selected universities and offering of 100 scholarships to foreign students.
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Last Updated May 19 2013 | 08:24 pm