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C21U Blog

Tue, 08/09/2011 - 12:35

Thinking about the most innovative universities elicits images of elite scholars at the world's top institutions in the U.S. and Europe. Increasingly, however, universities in other parts of the world are engaging in new ways of conducting a university that each comes with its own set of unique challenges and risks.

One such notable University is Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Sciences and Technology (KAUST) who aspires to be a leading research institution in the world. One characteristic that sets KAUST apart is that they admit only graduate students and post-docs to engage in research in one of only three fields: energy, food and water. Research funding for junior faculty starts around $3 million with senior faculty bringing down about twice as much.

All of this cutting edge research comes with its own set of challenges. KAUST does not offer tenure, instead offering its faculty five-year contracts. This causes some to worry about academic freedom in conservative Saudi Arabia.KAUST President admits that this institution is a high risk-high reward environment that they hope will lead to global recognition.

India is another country seeking to improve its international standing in higher education. Last year, India announced the creation of fourteen new “Innovation Universities” each with unique approaches to administration and research in an attempt to position India as a leading research institution. Like KAUST, these schools are focusing on some the most relevant issues not only to the region, but also to the world. These issues include topics such as poverty, hunger, disease and the liberal arts. Universities around the world, including Yale University, have taken interest in India’s attempts at reform in higher education.

Finally, Egypt’s Nile University does not, at first glance, seem as revolutionary as the previously listed examples, but Nile has established itself as a reputable research institution in a region with a virtually nonexistent research infrastructure. In the four years of its existence, it has generated a network of colleagues and financial backers from around the globe to conduct research in such fields as information technology and construction engineering. Because Egypt’s recently deposed President Hosni Mubarak supported Nile University, the post-revolutionary government views the Nile as “tainted” and has repossessed the land allocated to the school. This has resulted in many of the financial backers withdrawing their support due because of Nile University’s uncertain future, and many scholars lamenting what they view as the needless demise of Egypt’s top research institution.

Ultimately, though established top universities do strive to be innovative, many of the most striking ideas and daring models come from areas willing to make bold moves to establish themselves as a world leader.

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