GLOBAL: Diversity of models in higher education

Professor Eero Kasanen, Rector of the Helsinki School of Economics, kicked off the afternoon session of the Reinventing Higher Education conference at IE University in Segovia by asking: "Why are there not more mergers of universities?"

In Finland, increasing competitiveness among universities and structural reform of the public sector provided the driving force for the three longest established universities of technology, art and design and business to merge to create synergy and gain greater financial autonomy.

"It has been a major challenge to create a new culture and governance system but we are now striving to become world class," he said.

A radically different model was proposed by Professor Wang Zhongming, Dean of Zhejiang University Business School, China.

Wang explained his university had moved away from a predominantly academic model to one that was a 'problem-driven professional model': "For major issues such as a crisis or water management, it is necessary to create practical multidisciplinary collaborative programmes and strong local networks," Wang said.

This shift in focus has led the university to pioneer an entrepreneurial PhD rooted in a 'zero distance from practice' approach. To create stronger bonds between the university and the community, global research centres were established in the middle of high-tech zones to promote entrepreneurialism and support local family businesses.

These centres are used by local people for training events, conferences and as 'platforms to develop their own businesses'. Additionally, all courses run in the centres are free, as they are funded through government projects and by ex-alumni.

"Zhejiang University is the most innovative university in China, as is demonstrated by the fact that we produce the largest number of papers and patents in the country," Wang concluded. "Last year the minister of education visited our university with 50 of the top directors in China and said that 'this is the model for Chinese education in the future'."