Worldwide network of research universities

Four of the world’s major research university groups released a joint statement in China on 10 October outlining the characteristics of contemporary research universities as the next step towards establishing an international network of the four associations.

This latest move follows discussions among the four groups over the past 18 months about creating a parallel organisation to the Global Research Council, a virtual organisation launched in Arlington in Virginia in May last year and comprising the heads of about 50 science and engineering funding agencies from around the world.

As reported in University World News on 21 March, the Association of American Universities, League of European Research Universities, the China 9 grouping of leading Chinese universities and the Australian Group of Eight research intensive universities plan to join forces to tackle what the presidents see as the challenges facing research institutions around the globe.

At a meeting in Hefei outside Shanghai on Thursday, the presidents released the statement along with an explanatory Q&A document.

These were intended to identify the key characteristics that make research universities effective while also promoting a policy environment “which protects, nurtures and cultivates the values, standards and behaviours underlying these characteristics so as to facilitate their development if they do not already exist”, the statement said.

University leaders explain

“This statement articulates the key characteristics of research universities that enable them to fulfil their research and education missions,” said Professor Jianguo Hou, president of the University of Science and Technology of China and C9 convenor for 2013.

“It outlines the shared values that underpin effective cross-national institutional collaboration.”

Professor Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, said research universities could work together across borders “and across oceans” to make far-reaching contributions to problem-solving and innovation around the world.

“The statement identifies not only institutional responsibilities but also the need for government policies that support the values and cultivate those basic strengths of research universities that enable them to serve their nations well.”

Professor Bernd Huber, chair of the League of European Research Universities, added: “We will explore expanded future collaborations among our students, scholars and researchers.

“We will pursue the possibilities for joint work addressing global research issues, including structured dialogue with the Global Research Council, perhaps through the formation of a global council of research universities.”

The four associations represent the leading research universities in their respective regions and have agreed to work together to advance the 10 characteristics of research universities outlined in their statement while also considering collaborations with other groups.

The presidents said they would ask comparable associations of research universities to also commit to the characteristics outlined in the Hefei statement and sign onto them.

“We see this statement as the beginning of an important process of deepening community understanding of what research universities are, can be and can do, and of their unique role in meeting global challenges,” said Professor Fred Hilmer, chair of the Australian Group of Eight, or Go8, research universities.

The statement said that in the absence of a supportive environment, research universities would be unable to impart the major competitive advantage and global recognition that all nations sought from them.

The presidents said the statement set out what their universities stood for “and aspired to be” by outlining their shared values and the characteristics that underpinned their future cooperation.


As University World News reported last March, the idea of a collaborative association between the four groups was first discussed by the presidents at the 10th anniversary celebrations of the League of European Research Universities in Barcelona.

Further talks were held during a meeting in Shanghai a year ago that had been organised by the China 9 group, with which the Go8 has had close ties for several years.

“There have been huge changes in the higher education systems of most countries over recent decades. In particular, and led at least in part by the economic restructuring that has seen the service sector growing ever more important and the knowledge economy continuing its productive growth, universities have increased in number and size,” the Hefei statement says.

“In many countries, they have also become more diverse, reflecting the need to provide cost-effective services that meet immediate national needs. One measure of this diversification has been to recognise research universities, which while relatively small in number, together account for a significant proportion of the nation’s higher education research effort.”

It says that as universities developed from elite institutions catering to a small, select proportion of the population, through organisations offering education for an increasingly large and more diverse cohort, to offering almost universal access, the policy environment in which universities operate also has changed.

“In particular, policy in many countries is taking an ever more instrumentalist view of universities, a view that ties their roles and purpose to producing the knowledge and skills necessary to operate in a modern economy and to performing research that supports national development,” the statement says.

“While these clearly are desirable goals, the growing emphasis on them to the exclusion of other critical university roles has led research and higher education policies to a focus on short-term, often highly specific, outcomes which capture at best only a small portion of what universities contribute to society and general wellbeing and the ways in which they do this.”