[Viewpoint]Progress through innovationLately, colleges and universities are obsessed with boosting their rankings. As domestic and international college rankings have become the most pressing issue, schools are racking their brains for ideas about how to present themselves as global universities. The phenomenon can be found all over the world. When the Times or Shanghai Jiao Tung University announces international university rankings, the world pays attention. In these college rankings, American and British schools monopolize the top 20 spots, and traditionally prestigious institutions in non-English speaking European countries such as France and Germany, not to mention Asian universities, are often neglected.
Late last year, I attended a conference on international university rankings at Shanghai Jiao Tung University. Participants included over 100 representatives from international organizations such as Unesco and the World Bank and renowned universities around the world.
As interested as they are in the rankings, they expressed various opinions about the so-called Shanghai standards that determine college ranking. The presidents of the Ecole Normale Superieure, a French grande ecole whose alumni include over a dozen Nobel laureates and prominent figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault, strongly criticized the ranking system for focusing on American and British schools and failing to reflect the internal situation in France. The president of an Austrian college pointed out that the system is disadvantageous to smaller schools since it evaluates entire universities instead of rating schools by majors.
Nevertheless, we need to pay attention to schools that stray from convention and find innovate ways to rise in the rankings.
The National University of Malaysia barely made the top 200 because it did not make enough efforts to improve, while the National University of Singapore, which was a part of the National University of Malaysia, has constantly transformed itself through globalization. Today, the National University of Singapore is in the top 20 and is one of the most notable schools in Asia.
In order to pursue globalization, a Japanese university opened an office in Palo Alto, California, where prestigious Stanford University is located. Evidently, globalization is a way to become a world-class school.
The United States, which monopolizes the top spots in various international rankings, is making efforts of its own. In the case of Stanford University, it is only half as old as the schools it competes against, such as Harvard and Yale. Yet it successfully became one of the top schools through continuous experiments and a defiant spirit. In the 1960s, Stanford created a friendly environment for its graduates to begin startups near its campus, which was an IT wasteland at the time.
By collaborating with these startups, Stanford contributed to the birth of Silicon Valley and rose to the ranks of top universities. Recently, Stanford introduced an innovative college development plan to meet a new demand of global society. Under an international initiative called “The Stanford Challenge,” it has unfolded a large-scale fund-raising campaign to develop multidisciplinary research and educational programs on globalization, the environment, welfare and the arts. The multidisciplinary research and educational programs not only propose comprehensive solutions to important social issues but also produce a synergy effect in the course of finding the solution as different fields of studies communicate with one another.
At Stanford, it is hardly strange to find that a professor teaching legal policy on climate change is a political scientist without a J.D. If an MBA student completes the environmental curriculum offered at the School of Earth Science, he can earn another degree in the field. At the Institute of International Studies, medical school professors are working with social scientists to resolve welfare problems in developing countries.
Korean universities and colleges now find themselves in fierce competition with foreign schools. We need to break away from conventional frameworks of the past, pursue globalization and develop multidisciplinary research and educational curriculums with an experimental, challenging spirit. I hope that Korean universities can join the top rankings and produce leaders who not only lead the Republic of Korea but also make contributions to the world.
*The writer is a professor of international law at the School of International Studies of Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chung Suh-Yong