Writing Contest Round 2: Critically Examining the World-Class University

What makes a university “world-class”? What are the advantages and drawbacks of trying to create one? 


It is probably fair to say that Kazakhstan is seeking to create “world-class” universities (WCUs). But what does that term mean? What is the criterion? Who decides whether an institution should be World Class?

You may be surprised to learn that there are multiple definitions and criteria.

One author presents three complementary sets of factors (Salmi, 2012, p. 20):

  1. A high concentration of talent (faculty and students)
  2. Abundant resources
  3. Favorable governance

A fair question to ask: Is this definition biased in favor of Western nations? Or is it possible to build a WCU by learning from non-Western nations with political systems and institutions that are different from the English speaking countries, such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia? For example, see recent article in the New York Times by Justin Lin.

Many countries are advocating for the creation of these “educational hubs” (see Altbach, 2003), while others are rejecting this endeavor altogether (see Alperin, 2013). What does this approach say about a country’s priorities? Are those priorities set in stone, or are they up for debate?

By critically examining the definition and criteria of a WCU, and by considering its advantages and drawbacks, we may better understand the values and goals of the countries who are pursuing them.


Alperin, J. P. (2013). Brazil’s exception to the world-class university movement. Quality in Higher Education, 19(2), 158-172. Available here.

Altbach, P. G. (January 01, 2003). The costs and benefits of world-class universities. International Higher Education, 33, 2003. Available here.

Lin, J. Y. (2017, December 05). What China Can Teach Developing Nations About Building Power. Available here.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2007). Reviews of National Policies for Education: Higher Education in Kazakhstan 2007. Washington, DC: The World Bank. Available here.

Salmi, J. (2012). The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities. S.l.: World Bank. Available here.


Submit a posting in which you synthesize a definition of a “world-class university”, critically examining the role that such a university may play, on one hand, in developing economic, political, or educational systems, and on the other hand, in using public resources and prioritizing certain values over others.


Any current member of the NUWG blog can submit a critical review.  All rights for submission are at the discretion of NUWG.

Number of submissions

Each participant may submit only one review.

Abstract in three languages (trilingual policy)

The beginning of each post must include an abstract (50 words maximum per abstract) in three languages: English, Kazakh and Russian. Any submission without the three abstracts will be automatically disqualified.

Assistance is available for translations of the abstracts into Russian and Kazakh. Please email NUWG for details.

CRITERIA for the post

  • Quality of submission: The quality of the submission must meet or exceed the quality that is expected of posts to NUWG. NUWG will determine whether the quality of submission meets the standards or not. The decision of NUWG will be final, and there will be no appeal process.
  • The post should provide constructive, critical arguments and commentary.
  • The post will be judged on the quality and coherence of the arguments made.
  • The post should demonstrate that the reviewer has understood the various definitions of “world class university” and can use them clearly.
  • Wherever relevant, statements should be supported by references to policy documents, strategy papers, empirical data, statistics, other sources, academic references, research studies, and verified news (no fake news accepted). This will be viewed very favorably.
  • Word count range: 800-1200 words. The length should be appropriate. Longer posts will not have any advantage.


March 2, 6 am. Astana Standard time.

Cash Prizes

Individuals may submit one post.

Prize for first place:                 30,000 Tenge
Prize for second place:            15,000 Tenge
Prize for third place:                10,000 Tenge

Posts after the deadline, or which do not meet the guidelines stated above, will receive no prize. The decision of NUWG is final and cannot be contested. 

Honor system and intellectual integrity

The reviewer must assert that the reviewer is fully responsible for the writing of the post, and in the process did not seek any assistance from human or machines. You are free to use any resources in the whole wide world to help you, except AI (Artificial Intelligence). For example, you cannot use Siri or something equivalent to do it for you. However, you are free to discuss the ideas in the papers with anyone in the universe.

Group submission

To encourage collaboration and team work, a group submission is allowed with a maximum number of three members. All group members must assert that they were active members in the writing and completion of the post in all important aspects. In other words, there is no free-riding where one person supervised and the others did the work. The prize money will be divided equally by the number of members. We encourage diversity in the groups across various relevant dimensions, such as gender, ethnicity and region.

Number of winners

It may be the case that there are no winners, in which case NUWG may, at its own discretion change the deadlines for submission. Changes in the deadlines by NUWG cannot be contested.

Public discussion board

Public discussion will be permitted on a specially created Whatsapp chat group. The chat group must abide by all the rules and regulations of Kazakhstan. To join the Whatsapp chat group, send emails to: thamjx@gmail.com with your cell number for Whatsapp.  The administrators of the Whatsapp chat group reserve the right to exclude members if they violate the relevant rules and regulations.

Collection of prizes

Day and time for the collection for the prizes are to be determined.