Profiling the Flagship University Model: An Exploratory Proposal for Changing the Paradigm From Ranking to Relevancy, by John Aubrey Douglass


It’s a familiar if not fully explained paradigm. A “World Class University” (WCU) is supposed to have highly ranked research output, a culture of excellence, great facilities, and a brand name that transcends national borders. But perhaps most importantly, the particular institution needs to sit in the upper echelons of one or more world rankings generated each year by non-profit and for-profit entities. That is the ultimate proof for many government ministers and for much of the global higher education community. Or is it? It is not that current rankings are not useful and informative. The problem is that they represent a very narrow band of what it means to be a leading, or what might be best called a “Flagship” university within a region, within a nation. Further, WCU advocates do not provide much guidance, or knowledge, on what organizational behaviors and methods can lead to greater productivity in research, teaching, and public service that can best help universities meet the needs of the societies they must serve. In this essay I attempt to advocate the notion of the Flagship University as a more relevant ideal -- a model for public institutions, and perhaps some private institutions, one that could replace, or perhaps supplement and alter the perceptions, behaviors, and goals of ministries and universities in their drive for status and influence on society. It is a model that does not ignore international standards of excellence focused largely on research productivity, but is grounded in national and regional service, and with a specific set of characteristics and responsibilities that, admittedly, do not lend themselves to ranking regimes. Indeed, one goal here is to articulate a path, using the language of the Flagship University, that de-emphasizes rankings and that helps broaden the focus beyond research to relevancy and responsibility. Flagship Universities are research-intensive institutions, or in the process of becoming so, but have wider recognized goals. The great challenge for the network of universities that are truly leaders in their own national higher education systems is to shape their missions and, ultimately, to meaningfully expand their role in the societies that gave them life and purpose.  The Flagship University profile explored here includes an outline of mission, culture, and operational features, and is intended as a possible construct for this cause.

Publication date: 
April 1, 2014
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
PROFILING THE FLAGSHIP UNIVERSITY MODEL: An Exploratory Proposal for Changing the Paradigm From Ranking to Relevancy by John Aubrey Douglass CSHE.5.14 (April 2014)