- Leading Research Universities in a Competitive World by Robert Lacroix, Louis Maheu
In Leading Research Universities in a Competitive World, Robert Lacroix and Louis Maheu undertake the monumental task of explaining why certain national post-secondary education (PSE) systems are able to produce world-class research universities at a higher rate than others. In doing so, they produce a book that will be of great interest to administrators, policymakers, and scholars of PSE across many jurisdictions. To study this specified topic, the authors conduct a rich empirical analysis of four prominent national post-secondary education systems, including Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This analysis is informed by several types of evidence, a trait that should render the book appealing to a variety of readers. The authors employ descriptive statistics from an array of international and national agencies, ranging from the well-known Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [End Page 318] (OECD) to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO). They complement their usage of these statistics with a review of each system’s regulatory structures as well as a sketch of its historical development. In addition to examining the above-mentioned, Lacroix and Maheu also provide a useful description of the contemporary environment within which research universities operate – including the recent rise of institutional rankings, budgetary constraints, and the increasingly international dimensions of institutional competition. Lacroix and Maheu should be commended for covering all of this ground, some of which is very descriptive and, by now, common knowledge to those who study and manage PSE institutions. They have managed to produce a text that is accessible to readers lacking a background in the field of PSE, yet still interesting to specialists within the field. This is a very well-written text, especially when one considers that it is one that has been translated.
Lacroix and Maheu’s analysis draws attention to four main factors that facilitate the development of world-class research universities within a system. For starters, they argue that it is essential that research universities be afforded the freedom to engage in strategic decision-making. They arrive at such a conclusion primarily through a comparison of the rigid regulatory structures that govern organizational behaviour within the French PSE system to those in place in several English-speaking countries. This is an analytical strategy that the authors repeat throughout the book in order to highlight the different factors that they believe facilitate the emergence of leading research universities. Lacroix and Maheu note that the high degree of government intervention within the French PSE system hampers strategic action on the part of domestic universities when it comes to, for example, talent acquisition. They note that in:
Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, a university seeking to enhance the excellence of a teaching or research specific sector can target a group of professors in other universities, either domestic or foreign, and attempt to poach them by offering them better work, research, and teaching conditions.(p. 186)
This, of course, expedites the emergence or development of “exceptional concentrations” of researchers that are a principal feature of modern research universities (p. 186). Yet, Lacroix and Maheu claim that, as “anyone with experience of the processes and negotiations that characterize the... market for the most eminent professors will understand,” existing structures within French PSE “severely impair the competitiveness” of domestic universities (p. 186). Regulatory structures in France are thus described as obstructing the recruitment of talent into the nation’s leading research universities.
Secondly, Lacroix and Maheu draw attention to the importance of resource dependencies in the production of world-class research universities. Here, again, the unique structures present within the French PSE system are used by the authors to explicate how such a logic plays out. Lacroix and Maheu note that in France the “government assumes the lion’s share of university operating costs” (p. 178). This is said to be true despite recent regulatory changes meant to assist universities in “diversifying their...