Young universities from around globe gather at USF in Tampa to share experiences, strategies

Rivka Carmi came from the Negev desert in southern Israel, where Ben-Gurion University has brought life to an area that once was sand. Angina Parekh traveled from South Africa, where the University of Johannesburg has built a new legacy upon the foundation of higher learning institutions that were once racially segregated.

All in all, 261 people from 88 universities -- and 41 nations -- assembled at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Student Center to share and to learn about common challenges faced by younger universities.

The occasion was the first-ever Young Universities Summit on the North American continent.

“When you say Harvard or Cambridge or Singapore, everybody knows it and they say, ‘Wow!', right?,'' USF President Judy Genshaft told the crowd as the event neared its conclusion Thursday, June 7. “For us to keep ourselves very vibrant and moving forward, we have to understand that the senior universities aren’t just sitting by quietly either.”

To become known, younger universities -- those less than 50 years old -- must market themselves.

“Marketing is about a drumbeat that keeps going all the time -- so the people really know what you are all about,” Genshaft says.

The real work begins now that the summit is over.

“Now is the time for us to really solidify through our longer-term engagements, to make sure that this summit was worthwhile,” Genshaft says.

Young Universities Summit panelists at USF during the talk on translational research - bridging the gap from campus to community.The summit, which ran from June 5 to 7, was organized by the U.K.-based Times Higher Education (THE), which has been holding these events in places like Barcelona, Spain, and Brisbane, Australia.

USF, founded in 1956, is categorized as a Golden Age university, a category slightly older than Young Universities. The summit served both of these types of universities, which face real challenges competing with institutions that have established reputations dating back centuries. The older universities also may benefit from funding by generations of families.

During the event, THE announced its latest university rankings, with USF ranked 36 among the Top 200 Golden Age universities worldwide. Top in the ranking was the University of California in San Diego.

There were only 14 from the United States. Universities were judged on 13 performance indicators, including teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income.

“By isolating “Golden Age Universities” -- those founded between 1945 and 1967 -- the Times Higher Education has effectively ‘leveled the playing field,’ allowing for a more objective comparison of ‘like’ universities -- those that are young, ambitious, innovative, agile and responsive, and arguably most relevant in contemporary society,” explains Ralph Wilcox, USF Provost and Executive Vice President.

Claiming their destiny

There was no official sub-category for American universities in the ranking; U.S. rankings are done later in the year in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal. Of the U.S. public universities in the Golden Age ranking, however, USF was fifth on the list according to its global rank, up from seventh last year.

“This prestigious ranking by a highly regarded global publication affirms the focused, high impact contributions that USF is making, across the Tampa Bay Region and beyond, through student success, partnerships with business, industry and the public sector, along with research and economic development,” Wilcox says.

He notes partnerships with business contributed to its high ranking.

“Certainly our partnership with business and industry puts us at a very very high level of performance relative to even older universities, he says.

Increased competition was responsible for a drop from 34 in 2017 to 36 in the global ranking, USF officials say. USF tied with the University of Illinois at Chicago for 36th place.

Foreign universities are moving forward at a faster pace than the U.S. institutions, Roger Brindley, USF System VP for USF World, which oversees global engagement, tells 83 Degrees in an interview.

“The globalization genie is out of the bottle and U.S. universities not only have to understand that, but they have to appreciate how to work in this new world of global universities,” says Brindley, who holds a doctorate in education. “We cannot blink. We have got to focus on being globally engaged or we will be left behind.”

American universities may be more concerned about freedom of thought and discovery than other nations, where companies may regard universities as their research and development arms. These nations are “leaping forward and connecting universities, but also connecting business and industry,” says Wilcox, who has a doctorate in Global Studies.

“Of course you get multi-national heavyweights coming in and seducing professors and students with millions and millions of dollars of investment,” he adds.

Stepping out from the shadows

Karen Holbrook, Regional Chancellor for USF Sarasota-Manatee, listens in at the summit. During the three-day event, Carmi was part of a panel moderated by Karen Holbrook, Regional Chancellor for USF Sarasota-Manatee. The topic was “stepping out of the shadows.”

The president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Carmi shared the story of how the university was started almost 50 years ago with the mandate of spearheading regional development. Though they are in the desert far from the center of Israel, they are “making the desert bloom,” she says.

By staying loyal to their mission, they have gained a reputation for dealing with the now global issues about water, solar energy, and agriculture, Carmi says. They also are regarded as the nation’s cyber hub.

“We became experts in those issues that are very important worldwide,” she explains.

In connecting academia and industry, they’ve connected the campus to a high-tech park. Startups and spin-off businesses have developed.

Student outcomes and research

Ultimately, education is about the students and how well they do. So a session on student outcomes featured a panel chaired by Paul Dosal, USF’s VP for Student Affairs and Student Success.

Parekh, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, talked about how the university was part of a restructuring of the entire university infrastructure, which was pared from 36 to 26 institutions. In the 14 years since the merger, it has succeeded in becoming more representative of black South Africans, she says.

“Now 80 percent [of the study body] is black South African, which is an amazing achievement,” she says. “Forty percent of the faculty also is black South African.”

Paul Sanberg, senior VP for research, innovation, and knowledge enterprise at USF.The summit agenda also included a segment on “Translational research -- bridging the gap from campus to community,” which was emceed by Paul Sanberg, Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation and Knowledge Enterprise; President of USF Research Foundation and Founder of the National Academy of Inventors.

“I know that the ideas and experiences are going to help shape all of our institutions for years to come,” he told the gathering, describing himself as a “child of young universities” because of his education at York University in Toronto, Canada, and Australian National University in Canberra.

Sanberg talked about the expansion of the university’s role in the community. As the global economy has expanded, universities’ role has broadened to encompass driving innovation and economic development. As a result, university leaders have had to think differently.

“Without disruption there is no innovation,” he says.

Sanberg also points out he’s been “privileged to witness the transformation of a region, a rising star in the modern economy.”

“A culture of innovation has become ingrained in our institution,” he adds. “No old traditions are holding us back.”

Moving forward

As the lessons from the summit sink in, how might things be different at USF going forward?

“USF is going to have to do a much better job in collaborating with other universities that look like us, but complement our strengths,” Wilcox says.

The goal is “to ensure we’re better recognized and better known,” he explains.

For Joachim Hahn, VP for Academic Affairs at the University of the North, Colombia, at Barranquilla, who attended the summit, it was a chance to speak about how his university has stepped out of the shadows of poverty to help people in an uneducated part of his country. It also was an opportunity to visit old friends at the University of South Florida and learn from colleagues across the world.

Although Hahn’s university sent some of its engineering students to USF for their Ph.D.s, Hahn had never been to USF or Tampa.

“It’s beautiful,” he says.

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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