World-class universities, usually referred to as the most prominent research universities, are essential in developing competitiveness in the international knowledge economy. These universities play key roles in generating and circulating knowledge, educating highly skilled personnel for leadership, and serving the needs of society. In recent years, the development of world-class universities has featured prominently in the strategic planning of a range of countries. Various developmental strategies at national and institutional levels have been drawn up and implemented. In this context, Shanghai Jiao Tong University has initiated the International Conference on World-Class Universities, to bring together university administrators and top researchers from around the globe to discuss issues related to world-class universities, in the context of an increasing number of countries and higher educational institutions facing up to the challenge of the achievement of academic excellence. Universities in developing countries are making every effort to improve their ability to boost their research performance to achieve and maintain their worldwide positions and status [5–10].
There are important questions that must be answered:
• How does a university develop its status to become a world-class university?
• Are all universities facing identical issues and challenges?
• Can one university's successful strategies be transferred to other universities in other countries?
World-class universities are sometimes referred to as global research universities. World-class universities are academic institutions dedicated to creating and spreading knowledge in a range of disciplines and fields, delivering quality higher education at all levels, serving national needs, and furthering international public interest. Scholars and institutional administrators define “world-class” as attaining the standard to be included in the Lists of World University Rankings, which focuses on quality of education, internationalization, research output, status, and impact. Key attributes of world-class universities include qualified faculty, academically gifted and successful students, excellence in research, quality teaching at an international standard, high levels of funding, and well-equipped facilities. A world-class university is able to attract the most academically able students and the most highly qualified professors and researchers. It should also have access to plentiful funding sources and offer a rich learning and research environment, so as to respond flexibly and appropriately to the demands of a changing international market.