12 Feb 2015

A formula for academic prosperity

Generation of cutting edge knowledge is a key goal for academic institutions in this new era. This singular goal fuels a fierce competition to attract the talent that would accelerate and expand the capacity of a university in knowledge production. In this context of competition, countries such as Turkey have suffered for a long time from brain drain. However, some institutions have proved that brain drain can be reversed by incorporating a few key elements into their long term strategy.

As long as we provide the right facilities, opportunities and environment for the development of research and technology, the top drivers of knowledge production can be motivated to come back to their country. Currently, 90% of the faculty of Koç University has received their PhD degrees from leading universities in the US, and chosen to return to Turkey to impart their knowledge.

Freedom for productivity

Students and academics produce the best and the most when they have the highest level of freedom. Thus, a university must hire the best faculty it can, create an environment that attracts the best students, and then allow them to pursue their dreams by simply getting out of their way. However, setting up this system based purely on creating a free environment poses a challenge; for it also suggests the risk of losing control.

University education is a rendezvous between generations. Today, teaching can no longer merely involve the transfer of knowledge, and research can no longer be carried out behind disciplinary walls. Education must instead be seen as a dialogue between students and scholars, learning from and teaching one another.

The scholars who passionately choose to dedicate themselves to creating new knowledge and share this elixir of their creation with their students should not feel any kind of external pressure. Protecting this one-on-one relationship and leaving it at its own course should be the only matter for university administrators to be concerned with. Having one rule – freedom – persistent across all academic structures not only allows individual creativity and innovation but also leaves room for growth.


To create this environment of freedom requires an ability to be flexible, which is a distinct attribute of young institutions such as Koç University. Believing in the invaluable return of commitment to academic freedom, we put our efforts in releasing departmental boundaries. At Koç, there are no departmental chairs. This is an obvious example of the culture of delegation at Koç University and we pay utmost attention to disseminating it to each and every academic and administrative unit.

 

Recruit the best, evaluate and promote fairly

In order to encourage a constructive interaction among colleges and schools, institutions should set a standard of excellence in faculty recruitment, together with procedures for their evaluation and promotion.

For example at Koç University, instead of a tenure system, the productivity of the scholars is evaluated every five years. Moreover, the appointment and promotion of the faculty are based only on external recommendations from international peers. This system of evaluation works incredibly well and we see its expanding impact through the exceptional awards received by the faculty. Along with these awards, each year more and more faculty members are rewarded with outstanding grants and international funding. All of these success indicators make an institution much more desirable for prospective faculty members.

 

Merging curricula and industry

Undergraduate degrees at Koç University provide an environment that allows students to understand and integrate the broad-based liberal arts curriculum that we offer in all our schools including law and medicine. At the postgraduate level, productive intellectual partnerships involving industry, international entities and governments are encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration such as the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. These collective efforts can empower life-changing advances in the most promising research areas.

The products and services of the future which will have a great impact in our lives are going to come from the overlaps between medicine, sciences, engineering, humanities, administrative sciences and law. Therefore, a university can overcome barriers and commit itself to interdisciplinary research and teaching by appointing the best academics across the board to combine the talents, skills and disciplines through joint seminars, research centres and programmes.

In a nutshell, I believe the formula for prosperity in academia is hiring the best academic talents, facilitating an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach and letting the institution perform freely.

 

Prof. Umran Inan, President, Koç University, Turkey