Roadmap to Become a World-Class University

Osama Tayeb


Raising the educational and academic status and ranking of universities to that of internationally accepted world-class universities has become the goal of many university higher administrators around the globe in recent years. This trend has been made possible and accelerated by rapid global economic growth and development. Such efforts inevitably involve the progressive evolution of successful strategies dealing with issues concerning academic and educational excellence, funding, support facilities' suitability, academic staff qualifications, and graduates' competencies. Within this global academic context, an initiative for attaining world-class university rank and status was undertaken by King Abdulaziz University (KAU). The aim of this initiative was not primarily to compete with leading internationally recognized universities, but was rather a means of showcasing the academic and educational strengths and potential of KAU, and of creating an appropriate and navigable roadmap to facilitate genuine, academically credible, and enduring improvements in the quality of the higher education provided.

Before discussing KAU's approach to this venture, it is necessary to differentiate between the two concepts “university internationalization” and “world-class university” which are sometimes used interchangeably, although their meanings are dissimilar. KAU has selected to seek the status and ranking of “world-class university”.

Internationalization in Higher Education

The term “internationalization” covers a broad range of concepts of varying scope and emphasis concerning various aspects of higher education. A number of viewpoints have been adopted concerning university internationalization, and consequently differences in understanding of the term have become apparent. Internationalization can involve international contributions on syllabi, literature in other languages, exchange of professors and students, international studies, international technical collaboration, and academic staff mobility.

Internationalization in terms of activities includes academic and non-academic activities such as the development of curricula, scholar and student exchange, technological assistance, intercultural teaching, and joint research activities. The level of concentration of activities varies, depending on the specific educational and academic situation and geographical location of the concerned universities.

The European Association for International Education (EAIE) defines internationalization as the entire range of procedures by which higher education becomes less national, and more internationally oriented [1]. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) (now it is called Universities Canada) defines internationalization as a multitude of activities aimed at providing an educational practice within an environment that integrates a global perspective [2].

Others define internationalization as the integration of international aspects into teaching, research, and community services. This involves the integration of an international/intercultural/global perspective into a university's major functions whereby the university's higher education system develops an international orientation [3].

Internationalization can also refer to interactions between cultures through teaching, research, and community service functions, with the aim of attaining understanding, communication, and discussion across cultural and geographical borders.

This explains why internationalization is frequently referred to in relation to cultural integration and conflicts in some countries. In Asia, for example, cultural and ideological implications have been incorporated in the internationalization concept resulting in meanings such as “Westernization,” and “Liberalization”. This is the reason some scholars pose the question: how can a university rooted in its values open itself to thoughts and ethics derived from other knowledge sources [4]?

Internationalization is also sometimes described in terms of the process of learning the languages, social systems, and broader cultures of other countries.

As a result of the above, it is clear that any given understanding of internationalization depends on the particular socio-cultural context.

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