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Times Higher Education’s Alma Mater Index: Interview with Phil Baty

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As their first Alma Mater index is published today, Phil Baty, Editor at Times Higher Education, spoke to us about what these rankings mean for the next generation of hot-shot CEOs....


Where does the Alma Mater index sit in relation to your other trusted rankings?

‘This new Alma Mater index sits alongside Times Higher Education's range of trusted university rankings to help students make choices, and also to stimulate the conversation about what makes a great university, what are the qualities students look for in higher education. It doesn't tell the full story by any means, but is it helpful for would-be students to see which institutions have had a role in developing the current generation of leading business talent.’


Were you surprised to see such diversity in the top 100?

‘Yes, Times Higher Education has been publishing its traditional World University Rankings for ten years now, and while we are seeing changes over time, notably with the rise of Asian institutions, of course the 'usual suspects' from the US and UK dominate the tables. So it is great to see institutions that do not always make the top of the traditional rankings doing well – it’s good to use different data to capture diversity in the sector and to recognise the diverse range of things universities do, and do well.’


What was the motivation behind putting together this index?

‘This new index is designed to give us an insight into perhaps one of the most important elements of any university – their success at nurturing talent and the production of our future global leaders. This is something absolutely fundamental to universities and their students (and often their students' families), but it is not well captured by traditional rankings, which tend to focus on research.

Universities are there to inspire, stimulate and challenge their students, and to help them prepare for a changing workplace and to fulfil their potential. We are capturing one element of this – albeit in a simple snapshot – in recognising the role institutions have played in developing today's business leaders.

This particular exercise looks at global executives, but we'd also like to look in the future at policy makers, and people leading arts and culture too. Universities are not just about producing business brains.’


Do you think students today are more inspired to become CEOs of large brands because of some new cultural awareness of inner business workings (texts like The Apprentice or Undercover Boss, young public billionaire personas like Mark Zuckerberg etc.)?

‘One thing is for sure - with the rise and rise of tuition fees in many parts of the world, many students are much more focussed on the potential employment outcomes from their degree courses. There is a tendency to focus more on courses with more obvious, immediate employment outcomes, so students can be more confident of a return on their major investment of time and money in their university education.

This isn't always the best way forward -- students really need to learn how to think, and to challenge convention and to be ready for uncertainty and to be innovative. This can be nurtured by the right university across many different subject areas.

I'm sure there have always been many students who have targeted a top business career, with all the trappings of success that brings with it. Perhaps the biggest change now is not that business careers have been demystified and popularised by television, but that the advent of higher tuition fees has made students much more conscious of the salaries they'll need to earn after graduation to pay off their debts, so they have their eye on future careers at a much earlier stage.’


Do you think the economic downturn of the last 5 years and loss of faith in those in control of large companies has inspired young people to “take the reins themselves”?

‘Well it has certainly led more people in the media to look more closely at top executive pay and to perhaps ask more questions about the competence and skills of some of those at the very top of the business word who have been under the media spotlight. Perhaps it has helped demystify the top jobs and remind people that the so-called masters of the universe are, in fact, human.

But universities in general, economic crisis or no economic crisis, are about inspiring our top talent to aspire for the top jobs, be it in business, politics or elsewhere.’


We can see that while many CEOs study at undergraduate level at home, many go abroad to study at postgraduate level (Master’s, PhD). Why do you think undergraduates decide suddenly to study abroad instead for their postgraduate degree? What is that moment or factor which makes them look further?

‘In many cases, I'm sure a lot of the CEOs in this index really started to uncover their strengths and talents while at university in their home country, and in their drive to reach the top, then sought out the very best postgraduate education the world had to offer. This would often mean moving abroad.  

But increasingly students are seeking an overseas experience for their first degrees - there are around 4 million students studying outside their home country today, and that is expected to rise to around seven million by 2020.

It is clear that an international education has much to offer: it offers the intercultural skills increasingly demanded by the big global employers, helps students to master that all important second language, and to have a CV that stands our more than the rest of the pack.’



Read our coverage of the ‘THE Alma Mater Index: Global Executives’

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