Before the end of the 19th century, the president of Harvard University, Charles Eliot, counseled John D. Rockefeller that US$50 million (about US$5 billion in today’s currency) and 200 years would be required to create a research university (Altbach 2003). After the turn of the century, and with Rockefeller’s more than US$50 million, the University of Chicago needed only 20 years to attain top standing. In Asia just before the turn of this century, the newly established Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) took only 10 years and less than a tenth of Eliot’s figure to become one of Asia’s top 10 research universities
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Research universities stand at the center of the 21st-century global knowledge economy and serve as flagships for postsecondary education worldwide. The Road to Academic Excellence analyzes how research universities have developed and matured in 10 countries. They are elite, complex institutions with multiple academic and societal roles. They provide the key link between global science and scholarship and a nation’s scientific and knowledge system. Research universities produce much of the new information and analysis that not only leads to important advances in technology but also contributes, just as significantly, to better understanding of the human condition through the social sciences and humanities. They are both national institutions that contribute to culture, technology, and society and international institutions that link to global intellectual and scientific trends. They are truly central institutions of the global knowledge society (Salmi 2009). This chapter provides a historical and global context to understand the development of the research universities reviewed in the case studies in this book.
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