Change Towards Excellence

Jozef Ritzen


This chapter deals with the challenges of change towards excellence for universities that find themselves embroiled in the turmoil of globalization and of “informatization”: the intense absorption of ICT (information and communication technology) in even the tiniest blood vessels of social and economic life. External change leads to new and different demands on university output requiring welltrained graduates and research and community engagement (Sect. 2).

The university leadership plays a crucial role in ensuring that change towards excellence is achieved by developing a strategy which is owned by the university and by providing the means for that strategy's implementation (Sect. 3). In Sects. 4, 5, and 6 the elements of the strategy, involving goals in education, research, and community engagement, are discussed, as are the means to achieve these goals. Regional alliances appear to be a necessary component of a strategy leading towards excellence for most universities (Sect. 7). Section 8 discusses some questions concerning implementation, while Sect. 9 is devoted to concluding remarks.

This chapter draws on my personal, almost nine-year long, experience as minister, responsible for education, science, and culture in the Netherlands during the 1990s. The Netherlands' universities currently belong among the top 100 of most university rankings in relation to population size. The legislative changes effected in the 1990s are, according to many observers, related to the quality increase in universities that followed some 10–20 years later. Also, as President of Maastricht University in the first decade of the twenty first century, I learned a great deal about change towards excellence. The University grew to become perhaps the only university world-wide completely based on problem-based learning in all degree courses. In 2014 it was ranked 6th in the Times Higher Education Ranking of the “50 under 50” (the top 50 universities in the world younger than 50 years old), with in excess of 50 % of foreign students in its student body. Strategy towards excellence, based on past performance and strength, aided in the achievement of that position. The high ranking was never the primary goal, but it turned out to be an inevitable by-product of the university's search for excellence.

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