Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

Brussels, 15 October 2010

World-class. The brave new world of global higher education and research


"Everyone wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one."

This is the verdict on the ‘world-class university’ of one of the renowned speakers at this ACA European Policy Seminar and leading experts on the issue, Philip Altbach of Boston College. As Altbach points out, the ‘concept’ is as hotly debated as it is vague and little understood. In short, it is a challenge.

This one-day seminar aimed to familiarise participants with the state-of- the-art thinking on what constitutes a ‘world-class university’ and what it takes to build one. More in detail, it

  • addressed the role of internationalisation, funding, and governance in the creation of internationally excellent higher education institutions
  • analysed the link between the world-class concept and the recent emergence of global rankings
  • asked – and answered – the question who needs one – or more – world class universities
  • explored the link between world-class universities and the entire higher education system, by asking the question which “undergrowth” of other institutions an internationally leading university needs in order to thrive
  • explored alternative concepts of excellence beyond that of the research university  
  • scrutinised the role of teaching and learning in excellence.


Thursday 14 October 2010

  19:30        Seminar dinner at Il Pasticcio

Friday 15 October 2010


Registrations and coffee


Introduction: the paradigm of the world class university
Bernd Wächter


World-class universities and their undergrowth: the systemic link
Philip Altbach
, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, US 




World-class status and rankings. An unhealthy relationship?
Gero Federkeil, Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE), Germany 


Alternative models of world-class: the limits of the paradigm
Robert Coelen, Stenden University, The Netherlands


Excellence in teaching: news from AHELO
Dirk Van Damme, OECD




Rethinking excellence. The ‘hinterland’ of world-class universities.
Sabine Behrenbeck
, German Council of Science and Humanities, Cologne 


World-class and Europe: the EU response
Peter van der Hijden, DG Research, European Commission


The challenge of building world-class universities
Jamil Salmi, World Bank


Wrap-up and conclusions


End of seminar


Philip Altbach

Philip G. Altbach is J. Donald Monan, S.J. University Professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He was the 2004–2006 Distinguished Scholar Leader for the New Century Scholars initiative of the Fulbright program, and in 2010 was an Erudite Scholar of the Government of Kerala in India. He has been a senior associate of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and has taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Harvard University. He has had awards from the German Academic Exchange Service, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and others. He is author of Turmoil and Transition: The International Imperative in Higher Education, Comparative Higher Education, Student Politics in America, and other books.  He coedited the International Handbook of Higher Education. His most recent books are World Class Worldwide: Transforming Research Universities in Asia and Latin America, Leadership for World-Class Universities: Challenges for Developing Countries and Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution.

Gero Federkeil

Gero Federkeil is a trained sociologist and graduated at Bielefeld University in 1989. After a period of working in empirical social research at the university, he has been working in the field of higher education since 1993.

He started to work for the German Science Council in 1993 where he focused on higher education, evaluation and indicators, higher education and employment and on university medicine. He conducted many evaluations of German higher education institutions. Since 2000 he is working at the CHE Centre for Higher Education Development as a project manager. His main fields of work are ranking, evaluation, quality management and performance indicators. He is coordinating the international ranking activities at CHE and he has published on quality assessment and rankings.

He is member of the German Association of Higher Education Research and the German Association of Evaluation. Since 2009 he is Vice-President of IREG – International Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence.

Robert Coelen

Dr Robert John Coelen is Vice-President International at Stenden University in the Netherlands. Prior to this appointment he was Vice-President International at Leiden University, also in the Netherlands. He has worked for about 14 years in the field of international education. He returned to work in Europe after an absence of 30 years. Most of these 30 years were spent in Australia: First as an international student, fresh out of the Netherlands, next as a researcher and academic, and finally as Director International at two universities in Queensland. He spent part of the time working on developmental projects in Indonesia.

Dr Coelen is a member of Club33, a global think tank on internationalisation, a member of the International Ranking Experts Group, which produced the Berlin Principles on Ranking in Higher Education. He regularly reviews papers for the Journal of Studies in International Education.

Robert Coelen is a regular speaker at international and national conferences on issues related to internationalisation of higher education. In particular ranking, international positioning, the services to international students and admission are amongst the topics he addresses. More recently he is addressing quality in internationalisation as a pressing issue. He was the organiser of the Leiden University Global Ranking Symposium Series. He is the initiator and president of Euroscholars, a new study abroad education project in collaboration with 12 continental LERU universities.

Dr Coelen is committed to the ideals of an internationalised higher education as the result of first-hand experience as an international student, followed by observing the development of international students in his undergraduate programmes, as well as his international Ph.D. students. The beneficial personal transformation that ensues from academic development in cultures other than one’s own is something he believes all students should experience at some time in their lives.

Dirk Van Damme

Dirk Van Damme currently is Head of CERI (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation) in the Directorate for Education at the OECD in Paris.

He holds a PhD degree in educational sciences from Ghent University and is also professor of educational sciences in the same university (since 1995). He also was part-time professor in comparative education at the Free University of Brussels (1997-2000) and visiting professor of comparative education at Seton Hall University, NJ, USA (2001-2008). His main fields of study and research have included comparative education, lifelong education and higher education policy.

He has been professionally involved in educational policy development as deputy director of the cabinet of the Flemish Minister of education Luc Van den Bossche (1992-1998), as general director of the Flemish rectors’ conference VLIR (2000-2003), as expert for the implementation of the Bologna Declaration for Ms Marleen Vanderpoorten, Flemish Minister of education (2002-2003) and as director of the cabinet of Mr Frank Vandenbroucke, Flemish minister of education (2004-2008). In 2004 he served also as executive director of the RAGO, the organization of public schools in the Flemish Community of Belgium.

Besides that, he has served as an expert for several national and international organisations. In recent years he has served as board member of QANU (the quality assurance agency for the Dutch universities), as member of the scientific board of AQA (the Austrian Quality Agency in higher education), as expert member of the OECD review of schooling in Scotland, and as member of the Committee for the external evaluation of the University of Luxembourg.

His current interests focus on educational policy, innovation in education, comparative analyses of educational systems, new developments in the learning sciences and knowledge management in education.

Sabine Behrenbeck

Dr. Sabine Behrenbeck is  since 2004  Head of Department “Higher Education” and Project Director of the “Excellence Initiative” with the German Council of Science and Humanities in Cologne. From 1999 to 2004 she worked as Program Director of “Collaborative Research Centres” and as coordinator of the program “DFG-Research Centres” with the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) in Bonn.

Sabine Behrenbeck  received her PhD 1993 from the University of Cologne in Modern History, having studied History, History of Arts, and Theology at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn and at the Pontificia Università Gregoriana in Rome (1980 – 1987). After her Mater of Arts, she prerpared historical and cultural exhibitions in Bonn, Oberhausen and Dresden (1987 – 1995). She worked as a Postdoc from 1995 to 1996 in the group of Prof. Dr. Heinz Dieter Kittsteiner, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/ Oder, on “Theories of Conscience in 19th and 20th Century”, then changed to the University of Cologne as Project Manager of the research group of Prof. Dr. Klaus Mackscheidt, Department of Financial Science, on “European Integration between harmonisation and diversity” (1996 – 1998).

Peter van der Hijden

Peter van der Hijden works for the European Commission, Directorate General Research, in the Unit dealing with Universities and Researchers. Dossiers of the Unit include university funding, human resources strategies, research performance assessment, researchers’ training, -career and -mobility, all contributing to the creation of the ‘Innovation Union’ and the European Research Area (ERA).

Peter has worked for the European Commission in the field of transport (inland waterways), but his main experience lies in higher education and research: the Erasmus Programme, the modernisation agenda for universities, the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Process) and the European Research Area. Peter has studied law at Nymegen, Leyden and Maastricht University. Before moving to Brussels, he worked at the University Council and the Law Research Committee of Maastricht University.

Jamil Salmi

Jamil Salmi, a Moroccan education economist, is the World Bank’s tertiary education coordinator. He is the principal author of the Bank’s Tertiary Education Strategy entitled “Constructing Knowledge Societies:  New Challenges for Tertiary Education”.  In the past seventeen years, Mr. Salmi has provided policy advice on tertiary education reform to many governments in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Mr. Salmi is a member of the Governing Board of the International Institute for Educational Planning, the International Advisory Network of the UK Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, and the Editorial Committee of OECD’s Journal of Higher Education Management and Policy.  Mr. Salmi’s latest book, published in February 2009, addresses the “Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities”.

Bernd Wächter

Bernd Wächter is the Director of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), a consortium of European and global agencies which support international cooperation in higher education. ACA is a think-tank which promotes innovation and internationalisation in higher education. Bernd was born in Giessen (Germany) and studied at the universities of Hull (UK), Giessen and Marburg (Germany).  He lives in Brussels (Belgium) and is married to Thora Magnusdottir, a delightful lady from Iceland.

Bernd’s career has been focused on international higher education. In his first post, at the University of Kassel (Germany), he devised international degree programmes in cooperation with universities abroad. He later joined the British Council, before becoming the Director of the international office of the Fachhochschule Darmstadt. Moving on to Germany’s internationalisation agency DAAD, he became the head of this organisation’s European section. He subsequently became Director of Higher Education in the Brussels Socrates Office, with overall responsibility for the Erasmus Programme in Europe. In 1998, he took up his present post as the director of ACA. Bernd has published widely on international matters in higher education, and he is a frequent speaker at European and international education conferences. He is the editor of the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Higher Education and.  He also works, as an expert advisor, for many international organisations


Club de la Fondation Universitaire

Rue d’Egmont 11 – 1000 Bruxelles
Tel : +32 2 545 04 40
Fax : +32 2 513 64 11
E-mail :