Colaboración y competencia entre universidades: un informe de alto valor
Julio 13, 2023

Global University Leaders Council Hamburg (GUC)

GUC 2023: Navigating competition and collaboration – The way forward for universities

Competition and collaboration have always been part of academia. In recent years and decades, however, the way in which these principles shape the academic landscape has changed. Today, universities themselves have become competitors, where before the competitors have been individual researchers and countries. On the other hand, recent years have also witnessed the emergence of new forms of collaboration, such as strategic university alliances. What challenges arise from the complex interplay of competition and collaboration – and how should universities respond to them? The study “Navigating competition and collaboration – The way forward for universities”, conducted by Peter Maassen and his colleagues from the University of Oslo, tackles these questions from an empirical perspective. The study will serve as a starting point for the GUC 2023, which will be held from June 14 to 16 in Hamburg.

GUC Hamburg 2023: Navigating competition and collaboration – The way forward for universities

A research study for the Global University Leaders Council Hamburg 2023

Competition and collaboration have always been part of academia. In recent years and decades, however, the way in which these principles shape the academic landscape has changed. Today, universities themselves have become competitors, where before the competitors have been individual researchers and countries. On the other hand, recent years have also witnessed the emergence of new forms of collaboration, such as strategic university alliances. What challenges arise from the complex interplay of competition and collaboration – and how should universities respond to them? The study “Navigating competition and collaboration – The way forward for universities”, conducted by Peter Maassen and his colleagues from the University of Oslo, tackles these questions from an empirical perspective. The study will serve as a starting point for the GUC 2023, which will be held from June 14 to 16 in Hamburg.

Bajar Informe completo aquí: Maasen et al_2023_navigating_competition_and_collabration_2023

  • Competition and collaboration have always been part of academia, but traditional forms of competition and collaboration have been transformed in recent decades. This has led to the emergence of universities as competitors, where before the competitors have been individual academics and countries.
  • A distinction has to be made between the global competition among universities for status, and the (mainly) national competition for resources (students, staff, funding).
  • While some forms of competition involve risks for universities – e.g., loss of autonomy, weakening of status, or reduction of the capacity for primary academic tasks – the study did not identify valid examples of competition negatively affecting university collaborations.
  • The performance of universities addressed in global rankings is based on the assessment of the performance of individual academics. Little progress has been made on assessing the performance of universities as organizations.
  • Global rankings have serious defects and are argued to lead to unproductive competition between universities. In various countries, a global ranking fatigue can be observed among universities.
  • New forms of strategic institutional collaborations have emerged, such as inter-university partnerships and formal alliances. They serve multiple purposes – e.g., increasing competitiveness, serving economic interests, reducing risks and stimulating organizational learning – and are particularly flourishing in the area of sustainability and climate change.
  • Universities connect new forms of competition and collaboration in an instrumental way, but at the same time are committed to using and further developing strategic collaborations for non-competitive purposes.
  • The instrumental use of strategic collaborations by universities to maintain (or improve) their competitiveness is often promoted by government, for example, through government-university performance agreements and University Excellence programs.

Executive Summary

Transformation of competition and collaboration in higher education
  1. Competition and collaboration have always been a crucial part of academia. Without the competition for students, staff, money, and scientific ideas and perspectives, and collaboration in the development and delivery of study programs, the exchange of ideas and research results, and the sharing of infrastructure, labs and equipment, scientific progress would not have been possible.
  2. Throughout the last decades, there has been a transformation of the traditional forms of competition and collaboration in higher education and research. Competition has become more intense and its nature has changed, while new forms of formal collaborations between higher education institutions have emerged. There are a number of factors underlying this transformation, including the growing policy focus of public authorities around the world on the key role of knowledge in innovation and economic growth. Consequently, higher education is identified as a central sector for enhancing the global competitiveness of national economies with research universities as the key knowledge institutions. For higher education to realize its potential in the global knowledge economy, governments have initiated reforms aimed at enhancing the performance of their universities. These reforms have strengthened institutional autonomy, pushed for new forms of institutional governance, leadership, and administration, and introduced performance-based mechanisms for the public funding of universities. Furthermore, the public funding of research has become more competitive and in essence driven by the performance of the applying academics. As a result, research universities have become competitors in academia, where before the competition was in essence a competition between academics and between countries. Formal inter-institutional collaboration is also stimulated by the reforms, amongst other things, as a means to improve the academic performance of the participating institutions.
  3. This development was made possible by the introduction of bibliometrics and scientometrics as research fields, which allowed for the growing use of performance ratings of individual academics and their units or teams. These metrics and ratings also led to the development of global university rankings, which have mushroomed since the early 2000s. These rankings have created a relatively stable order among research universities, with largely the same universities in the top 40-50 of every ranking, a group of 100-150 universities in the ‘sub-top’, and another 500 to 800 universities eagerly trying to enhance their performance in order to enter the ‘sub-top’. Most of these universities are located in North America, Europe and Asia,with the position of US universities under pressure as a consequence of large public investments by governments in a number of European and Asian countries, including China.
  4. Rankings are contributing to the construction of new forms of competition in academia. A ranking defines status as something scarce: only one university can have the highest position and the other top positions are also scarce. Rankings directly and indirectly determine who is an appropriate organizational actor, by including some and excluding other universities from being ranked. In a total of 25 000 higher education institutions around the world, those included in a global university ranking are attributed a higher status. In addition, rankings have instigated some cases of mergers between institutions in order for the new university to gain a higher position in the rankings.
  5. The existence of global university rankings is an expression of the global competition for status as a scarce good in academia. Governments stimulate this competition on the assumption that the higher the status of a university, the better it will be able to compete successfully for highly talented graduate students and staff, which will strengthen the chances of the university in question to compete successfully for external research funding. The ultimate expected outcome is an enhancement of the scientific performance of the university, which will strengthen its capacity for contributing to its home country’s global economic competitiveness and status.
  6. While the competition for status is global, the competition for resources (students, staff and funding) is in essence national. Only the small elite of the top ranked research universities truly compete globally for the most talented graduate students and high performing academic staff. However, even for these universities the national context is highly important in the sense that most of their students and staff are recruited nationally, and their public research funding income is allocated nationally. Therefore, the transformation of competition in higher education consists of research universities becoming competitors, a growing use of a variety of competitive schemes in the allocation of public funds by national governments, a more intense national competition for students and staff, and a global competition for status. In Europe, the EU has an important supranational role in the competitive allocation of research funding, but also here, most public funding is allocated nationally, and nearly all research universities compete for students and staff mainly nationally.
  7. The transformation of inter-university collaboration is stimulated by ‘the collaboration imperative’ referring to the current situation in many academic fields that individual academics can no longer realize meaningful outcomes without collaboration with colleagues within their university, in other national institutions, or abroad. This can be observed in the dramatic growth in co-authored academic publications and the growing number of international collaborative research projects. In addition, collaboration in teaching has increased, made possible by the growing use of digital technologies.
  8. The collaboration imperative has together with new governmental policy initiatives stimulated the development of new forms of inter-institutional collaboration in the form of formal strategic partnerships and alliances. While partnerships often are bilateral, alliances are formed by multiple institutions, and they sometimes also include non-academic private and/or public organizations as members or associated partners. These new forms of inter-university collaboration differ from traditional forms in their involvement of long-term commitment of all universities included in working toward a long-term vision or goal that is grounded in a common philosophy resulting in something new. Successful formal inter-university collaboration is argued to require mutual respect, trust, openness, shared decision-making and shared risktaking.
  9. A meta-organizational perspective can be used for analyzing the development of new university partnerships and alliances. Such a perspective identifies four dimensions – coordination, conflict resolution, commitment, and cultural characteristics – that affect key features of university alliances. A positive development of all four dimensions, and the ways in which they are interconnected, may lead to the institutionalization of certain practices and ways of doing things that can be assumed to transform an alliance or partnership into a persistent and long-lasting entity.
  10. A challenge in inter-university collaboration is the integration of academic activities agreed upon in university alliances and partnerships with academic collaboration activities developed and undertaken by individual academics and their teams. These two forms of academic collaboration are usually weakly coordinated. Therefore, university leadership has an important role in stimulating a better horizontal and vertical coordination in their institution in the selection of institutional collaboration partners and the introduction of incentives for promoting the participation of academic staff and students in formal partnerships and alliances.
  11. In many countries around the world, the government-initiated reforms of the last decades represent the introduction or strengthening of competition in systems where ‘organized competition’ was traditionally weak. This development has been argued to lead to a global convergence of the governance, funding, and organization of higher education in a direction that resembles the competitive US system of higher education. However, there are various indications that challenge this argument.For example, OECD data shows that there is no homogeneous global trend towards an increase in the private contributions to higher education funding. Furthermore, basic governance and organization features of higher education remain firmly embedded in national legal and political contexts, implying that the traditional diversity among higher education systems is not diminishing.
  12. At the same time, public funding priorities and the policy instruments used to realize these priorities have changed and seem to follow the same reform agenda. This implies a trend from input-oriented to output-oriented funding and from central regulatory approaches treating all universities alike to decentral competitive approaches where institutional performance, strategies and profiles play an important role in funding outcomes, stimulating a more diversified higher education system. This new public funding approach is accompanied by and reliant on a system that explicitly measures and evaluates university outputs, such as credit points produced by students, the number of dropouts and graduates, research articles, and the success in the external competition for research funding.
  13. The academic literature is until now mainly focused on conceptualizing and interpreting new forms of competition and collaboration, with relatively little valid empirical evidence produced on the effects of new forms of competition and collaboration on universities, for example, the effects on the behavior of academics and the quality of teaching and research. At the same time, it has been argued that the attempts to transform academic qualities into numeric forms to measure, to compare, and to inform decision-making, reduce the quality of information about academic activities and run the risk of narrowing the recognition and impact of knowledge generated in diverse systems.
  14. The changes in government policies and the growing focus on institutional performance in public funding require an organizational actor that can take the responsibility for realizing the expected changes in university organization and governance, and make sure that the university produces the expected outcomes. Government policies refer to universities with expectations about performance and fulfilling society’s needs, but universities as such are not actors. They have traditionally been characterized by organizational features that are shaped by academic activities, consisting of decentralized, loosely coupled units, with unique ways in organizing work and distributing authority within the organization. In addition, the organizational culture of the university is firmly embedded in the principle of academic freedom and the crucial role of self-governance for realizing the quality of academic activities required for maintaining scientific progress. These unique features do not integrate naturally with the notion of actorhood, which requires a clear organizational identity instead of a fragmented academic culture, a hierarchical leadership structure instead of self-governance, and rational decision making instead of organized anarchy.
  15. Governments assume that organizational actorhood of universities can be developed through enhanced institutional autonomy, creating executive leadership and management functions, and introducing external competitive schemes. The executive university leadership, it is argued, can use the enhanced room to maneuver to create more control over the academic activities and position the university into a niche where performance and status can be maximized. Studies show that even though leadership functions have been strengthened and have become more hierarchical, institutional autonomy enhanced, and competition for funding intensified, institutional leadership has not necessarily gained more control over the outcomes of academic activities. The framework conditions for the academic activities have changed, but this seems to have created new horizontal and vertical coordination problems in universities. Whether university leaders will be able to solve these coordination problems in the long run remains to be seen.
  16. The study has identified six themes in the ways in which universities around the world navigate competition and collaboration. These themes are derived from an analysis of expressions and intentions developed at the central institutional level, for example, through institutional strategies, missions, ambitions, and plans. In addition, we examined the extent to which universities are involved in formal collaboration through institutional partnerships and alliances. We also conducted a number of interviews with university leaders. These themes are:
  1. Changing global political landscape; this theme has to do with the rapidly changing contexts for higher education as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing political competition and tensions between countries, especially in light of the war in Ukraine. The theme refers to the crucial importance for university leaders to take into account that the rapidly changing global political landscape runs the risk of re-emphasizing national interests in science and changing the open global science system into a number of loosely connected groups of systems in countries that form a political alliance, plus national science systems in countries that are marginalized in the political conflicts.
  1. Strategic institutional positioning; this theme concerns the ways in which universities interpret competition and collaboration and indicate the objectives they have in using competition and collaboration for achieving their institutional goals. Many universities in this study indicate that they want to contribute to finding solutions for global challenges, while others emphasize that they prioritize their contribution to national development. A third group consists of universities that position themselves in local and/or national markets for students, with an interest in contributing to the economic competitiveness of local, regional or national businesses.
  1. Rankings, bibliometrics and ratings; this theme reflects the current dominance of impersonal references in the assessment of individual, team, and institutional performance. This trend makes data on performance more easily accessible and comparable, and allows for the emergence of a performance measurement industry, especially with respect to global university comparisons and rankings. At the same time, impersonal, standardized performance data generally hides important information, for example, about the context and nature of the performance measured. Another challenge is the use of individual ratings in academia, while in many fields collaboration is a condition for achieving meaningful outcomes. University leaders are aware of these challenges, but institutional incentive schemes for enhancing performance or premiums for rewarding performance are generally still individually oriented and represent, for example, changing publication strategies at individual and organizational level, but not the group or team level.
  1. Changes in institutional collaboration; this theme represents the development of new forms of formal inter-university collaboration. All universities in the study present various examples of their institutional partnerships and/or alliances in their documents and on their websites. However, it is not always clear how strategic these collaborations are, how committed the participating universities are to the collaboration, and whether they represent a genuine move towards long-lasting collaborations aimed at producing new outcomes. Another aspect is the extent to which the collaborations that are strategic and to which the institution is truly committed, are set up to gain a competitive advantage, or whether other rationales were more important for establishing the collaboration. Some universities have signed partnership agreements with unequal partners, in the sense of significantly worse or better performing universities. The rationales and objectives of strategic university collaborations should be a topic for future research, amongst other things, to get a better understanding of the multitude of motives for such collaborations. This is recommendable in order to nuance the current dominant discourse about the positive impact of strategic collaborations on the global competitiveness of universities. Another issue is that it is not clear to what extent universities use incentives for promoting participation in collaborations, for example, in the form of salary increases, promotions, or project funding. Finally, an issue with respect to this theme is how universities communicate their strategic collaborations. Overall, universities highlight the importance of institutional collaborations in their strategies and missions, research and education policies, and annual reports, and indicate that they want to further develop their strategic collaborations. However, the information on the existing collaborations is often not very clear, lacking basic information on the rationales and expected outcomes of the collaborations.
  1. Collaboration with non-university partners; some of the universities in the study emphasize the strategic importance of collaboration with private and/or public sector partners in their strategies. This is related to the universities’ knowledge transfer ambitions, their strategic objectives to contribute to the economic competitiveness of their region and country, or their goals of contributing to social inclusion, equal opportunities and the strengthening of democratic institutions in their society. The importance of this type of strategic collaboration is also reflected in governmental policies, however, we currently know little about the intended and realized outcomes for universities of collaboration with non-academic partners.
  1. Disciplinary diversity; this theme has to do with the role of disciplines in competition and collaboration. While there are important differences among disciplines when it comes to their role in university collaboration and the extent to which they are impacted by competitive schemes, there is little empirical research done on the influence of disciplines on the transformation of competition and collaboration, nor on how this transformation affects disciplines. Studies on evaluation in specific disciplines show, for example, how research evaluation affects the structural organization and cognitive development of disciplinary research, reinforcing stratification, and standardization. In addition, transdisciplinary collaborations among individual scientists, research teams, and universities demand enhanced attention. Furthermore, more research is needed to get a better understanding of the impact of internal and external competition and strategic institutional collaboration on the power balance between and within disciplines.
  1. The six themes give a first impression of the ways in which universities navigate competition and collaboration. They also provide limited insights into the impact of the transformation in competition and collaboration on the university, for example, on the behavior and attitudes of academics, the development of the quality of teaching and research, and the extent to which utilitarianism is replacing curiosity in the development of research problems.
  2. In addition to the six overall themes, a more detailed examination of the strategic development of five research intensive universities in navigating competition and collaboration was undertaken in the study. These examinations provide relevant insights into the ways in which these universities use collaboration to maintain or strengthen their global competitiveness. At the same time, they show that the growing use of strategic institutional collaborations is also legitimized by other rationales than the institution’s competitiveness, for example, the aim to develop sustainability as a key component of the institutional profile, and the ambition to contribute to academic capacity building in the Global South.
  3. In order to determine a way forward for university leaders, a number of opportunities in navigating competition and collaboration are identified in this study. To start with, the global acknowledgement of the importance of sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides important opportunities for universities to break down the zero-sum game of global university rankings by contributing to a shift in institutional performance assessment from using competitive indicators to emphasizing collaborative achievements. Another way forward is offered by the opportunity to use the institutional and societal commitment to sustainability to create a better, more effective balance between disciplinary and inter-disciplinary academic activities. The commitment to sustainability would also allow for a more effective and attractive way of communicating university achievements. For example, instead of presenting the places in rankings, universities could communicate their achievements in sustainability collaborations.
  4. Another way forward lies in the acknowledgement of the risks involved for universities in the competition for global status. By being aware of these risks universities will be less inclined to make unproductive investments, and be better able to develop strategic instead of instrumental connections between competition and collaboration. Furthermore, the current opportunities to develop multilateral, equal partnerships between universities in the Global North and universities in the Global South offer another way forward. An important challenge in these partnerships is formed by inequalities in areas such as funding, infrastructure, staff capacity, and academic career opportunities. How North-South university partnerships address these inequalities in their collaboration will to a large extent the long-term contribution of the partnership to academic capacity building in the Global South.
  5. Furthermore, there might be a way forward for universities in navigating competition and collaboration in the ways in which they contribute to a better understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the use of competition in higher education and research governance. There is, for example, a critical lack of valid empirical knowledge on the use of performance indicators, parameters and criteria in the public funding of higher education and research. Universities can contribute in a number of ways to a better foundation for the understanding of the pros and cons of performance based funding. Finally, universities should be aware of the nature of consequences of the so-called ‘desectorization’ of the public governance of higher education and research. This concerns the ways in which the public governance of the academic sector decouples increasingly from the interests and specific features of the sector, amongst other things, by shifting public funding from basic research and general study programs, to applied and use-oriented research and study programs in economically useful areas, such as STEM. It is crucial that universities collectively communicate the importance of maintaining, if not strengthening the involvement of the sector in its public governance.

Way forward

The remarkable expansion of science reflects contrasting and simultaneous trends including intensifying competition at all levels complemented by new forms of strategic collaboration among universities. In the academic literature various convincing and relevant conceptualizations and interpretations of the transformation of competition and collaboration in higher education can be found, however, relatively little valid empirical evidence is produced on the effects of new forms of competition and collaboration on universities.

The six themes presented in the previous chapter give several indications of the ways in which research universities interpret and use competition and collaboration in their strategic development. The discussion of the strategic use of competition and collaboration in five universities added some practical insights to the presentation of the general themes. However, they do provide limited empirical evidence on the actual impact of the transformation in competition and collaboration on the university, for example, on the behavior and attitudes of academics, the development of the quality of teaching and research, and the extent to which utilitarianism is replacing curiosity in the development of research problems. The kind of international comparative research that would contribute to our understanding of the impact of the new forms of competition and collaboration would require levels of funding and research capacity that currently are not available. This means that university leaders must decide how to navigate intensifying competition and institutional collaboration without valid knowledge on the range of possible impacts of both in a period where the global circumstances for higher education and research are changing rather dramatically.

For identifying a way forward for university leaders, several opportunities in navigating competition and collaboration are identified in this study.

To begin with, all universities in the study highlight sustainability as an important strategic theme and most present contributing to the realization of the SDGs as a strategic institutional objective. Related to this, the study finds a broad commitment among the universities to prioritize academic activities addressing climate change, renewable energy, and more general the green transformation. This commitment involves all disciplinary areas of the universities, and is seen as requiring collaboration across disciplinary, institutional, national, and cultural boundaries. The latter offers important opportunities for universities to distance themselves from the negative effects of the global competition for status as a zero-sum game. A university can only move up in the global rankings if another moves down. Instead of explicitly presenting the places in various rankings on their website and in institutional documents as evidence for their global competitiveness, research universities could present sustainability collaboration as a key achievement, for example, by developing joint websites and information documents with their academic, and if applicable, non-academic partners. Many university leaders criticize rankings, but at the same time, practically all research universities refer prominently to their current rankings and the position they want to achieve in future rankings. With the serious defects all rankings have, university leaders should seriously consider whether the continuous reference to rankings is in the best interest of their institutions. As indicated, if research universities want to highlight their performance this could be presented from a collaborative instead of competitive perspective. This could also be a key theme to take up with public authorities, agencies, and other stakeholders: how to move from measurements of individual academic performance by using impersonal metrics and indicators as the foundation for universities’ competitiveness, to the assessment of institutional performance in the contribution to the achievement of the SDGs and other mutually agreed social, economic, and cultural objectives? In the latter, collaborative achievements could feature prominently.

In addition, the global acknowledgement of the universities’ role in realizing the achievement of the SDGs raise some questions about the effectiveness of the universities’ organization and governance features. One issue to address is the current imbalance in most universities between disciplinary and interdisciplinary academic activities. In this, it is of relevance to achieve intra-university understandings on how disciplinary developments can be combined with interdisciplinary research, teaching, and knowledge applications. Here various universities in our study, for example, UCSD, provide relevant insights into how a more inter- or multidisciplinary organization of the university could look like.

Furthermore, most universities in this study have developed strategic partnerships and/or are member of one or more formal alliances that address sustainability and climate change themes in their collaboration programs. There are also various universities in this study that provide insights into how strategic collaborations can be used to strengthen the participating universities’ institutional commitment to sustainability, for example, by developing complementary areas of expertise.

Given the global challenges with respect to moving towards more sustainable ways of life, this is a profile area that can be used by university leaders to undertake collective action, aimed at developing joint research agendas and programs at a more international level than currently is happening, and enhancing both open and strategic research funding levels at the national level. Collectively, university leaders could aim, for example, at convincing national public authorities that competition for open and strategic sustainability funding should not be driven and decided by impersonal references and metrics of the individual researchers involved in the application, but also by the level and nature of the collaboration incorporated in the project for which funding is requested. In addition, university leaders could undertake collective action with respect to the ways in which performance is communicated. Global and national university rankings do not represent the range of tasks and missions a university has, but instead are using a reductionist approach that isolates major developments in complex national and global systems and institutions to the impact of a single variable. The ratings and metrics used internally for assessing faculty performance are also reductionistic and do not necessarily measure the performance the university wants to reward. Collectively universities could develop alternatives for the current performance measurements, which would, for example, allow for a more diversified way of measuring the achievements of academic staff, including contributions to university collaborations, or social engagement activities [1]. As indicated, with respect to assessing and comparing the performance of universities, indicators focused on sustainability contributions could be included.

The second opportunity to mention is that universities can more effectively navigate competition and collaboration by being aware of the risks involved in the transformation of competition and especially their involvement in the global competition for status. This concerns, for example, the possible impact of the participation in the competition for status on the internal structure and culture of universities with negative effects on their primary activities and tasks. A second risk is the possible loss institutional autonomy, for example, to an organization organizing a ranking or an alliance of which a university is a member. A third risk is that involvement in the global competition for status reduces the institutional capacity for undertaking other, more fundamental tasks. This might threaten basic institutional values and the purpose of universities. A final risk that the global competition for status can become an aim in itself, turning into entertainment industry with awards and premiums, etc. In this, we can point, for example, to the existence of a private sector university ranking industry, which has clear commercial interests in the further development of the global status competition and in developing new forms of higher education competition. Awareness of these risks will help in avoiding unproductive investments, for example, in competition-oriented staff capacity, and can also lead to better matching and less instrumental connections of competition and collaboration in the strategic development of universities.

The third opportunity relates to various kinds of inequities continuing to characterize the global science system. Even though the research productivity of several universities in the Global South is increasing, there still is a significant North-South gap when it comes to doctoral education capacity and productivity, career opportunities for early career academics, research infrastructure and equipment, research funding, and administrative support structures. The multilateral ideology underlying the joint AU-EU Innovation Agenda shows a way forward for university leaders also outside Africa and Europe when it comes to the creation of equal university partnerships in an unequal world. The AU-EU Innovation Agenda can be used as a frame of reference for collective action of university leaders towards national authorities for strongly promoting multilateral science collaboration and the need to use public funding for supporting global university collaboration with multiple purposes, including reducing global science inequities. For the sustainable development of all our societies the scientific capacity of universities in the Global South needs to be structurally enhanced. This is not a shortterm activity but requires long-term investments and commitment. The current global competition for status excludes nearly all universities from the Global South. Long-term commitments to reduce global science inequities are required and the coming 10-15 years will form a crucial period for realizing these commitments. In this, there are several examples among the universities in this study of strategic partnerships between a university in the Global North and a university in the Global South, for example, at Cardiff University, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Groningen. But even at these universities the North-South collaboration is between in essence unequal partners, which is visible in the organization, governance, funding, and presentation of these partnerships. Therefore, an important way forward in this is for universities involved in North-South partnerships to address the various inequality dimensions in the partnership and develop a long-term plan for how the partnership will contribute to reducing the inequalities. In addition, the presentation of these partnerships can become better integrated in the sense of becoming more balanced and equal. Currently, information on the partnerships is mainly if not exclusively found on the websites of the university in the Global North, and it is not clear, for example, what the role of the university in the Global South is in the partnership, nor in how far the partnership contributes to reducing inequalities.

The fourth opportunity concerns the universities’ dealing with competition in the form of performance-based funding (PBF) systems and performance agreements. While governments increasingly introduce PBF systems, there is little evidence that they produce the intended outcomes in the sense of improved performance of universities in agreed upon areas, overall quality of education and research, or a more efficient use of public funding. In this universities could contribute to a better understanding of the pros and cons of PBF systems and performance agreements, for example, by instigating the development of an international data basis on the nature and impact of PBF systems. Given public authorities’ emphasis on using performance as a central parameter in the public funding of universities, it is crucial that the evidence basis for this funding development is significantly improved, and universities should consider how they can contribute to this improvement.

Finally, research universities should consider how they could respond collectively to the global shift from open research funding to strategic, thematic research funding programs. This shift undermines necessary long-term commitments to basic research [2] and research priorities identified by the academic community. As argued at the fifth anniversary of the European Research Council (ERC) by the ERC’s then President Helga Nowotny, “we simply do not know what we do not know”. [3]Also from an academic freedom perspective it is therefore important to create and maintain ample opportunities for academics to follow their own research agenda. In addition, it is important that university leaders use their authority to pressure public authorities and agencies in their own country to maintain academic representatives in the boards of national research councils and other relevant bodies. The current ‘de-sectorization’ of the public governance of especially research consists, for example, of the replacement of top academics in the boards of research councils and other relevant agencies by members who represent certain socio-economic or political interests but lack an understanding of the specific features of academia and the main national and global scientific developments.



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