The University of South Florida turns 62 this year -- old enough to retire if it were human, but a veritable infant compared to other institutions of higher education, like the nearly 400-year-old Harvard University or Oxford, which was founded more than nine centuries ago.
Around much of the world, universities only began popping up in the second half of the 20th century.
“There are many African countries, many South American countries and many Asian countries that are really just now developing their higher education,” said Roger Brindley, Vice President for USF World.
Brindley acknowledged that older universities have the advantage of reputation and history. But younger universities have their own benefits too. He said they’re not tied to the past and can be more forward-thinking.
“So at a university like USF, it’s very rare to hear anybody say, ‘Oh no, we don’t do it like that.’ The thought process brings us to thinking how do we find the future, how do we move into the 21st century in this rapid age of accelerations in society?" said Brindley. "How do we make sure the university becomes a critical place in society for continuing, solution-oriented, applied research that will help all of society?"
That youthful way of approaching things will be on display this week in Tampa as USF hosts more than 200 leaders of similar schools from around the world at the Times Higher Education Young Universities Summit.
Speaking via Skype from London, Baty said about 20 presentations will be made during the three-day conference. A major topic is how younger universities can raise their profile through marketing their academic brand.
“How do you find your niche? How do you communicate your excellence? Because it’s not about heritage and history and pomp and ceremony. It’s about what you’re doing, what you’re delivering for your communities, what you’re doing in terms of educating students for the future workforce,” said Baty.
Another issue is how newer universities can use research and collaboration to build both their reputations and financial endowments.
“Younger universities aren’t always going to be teaching classics and philosophy, they might be more focused on business needs, new inventions, new innovations, new processes for doing things in the business world, so how do you partner up with business to deliver research that has an impact, that makes a change to the economy," said Baty.
That outreach, he said, mirroring Brindley's commments, is one of the strengths of younger universiites.
"They’re regularly more able to take risks, they can make decisions more quickly, they can be closer to the real world, closer to the people on the ground who they teach, the businesses and the communities,” said Baty.
“We use 13 different metrics," Baty said. "We’re looking at teaching excellence, research excellence, we’re looking at international collaboration, and we also look at a university’s interaction with business and industry.”
While in Tampa, they’ll unveil two of their “best of” lists – one for schools founded since 1945 and another for those less than 50 years old.
“They’re a celebration of the next generation, they’re a celebration of the future (University of California at) Berkeley's, the future Harvard’s, and the disruptors who may well be the next generation of outstanding research universities.”
The event is historic for USF as well, as it’s the first North American university to host the summit.
“USF, I think really came out to us as a university that is very passionate, very driven, very much committed to constant improvement, committed to global partnership," said Baty. “There’s a real buzz and an energy at USF, we love the team, they’ve been absolutely fantastic."
Being the host school allows USF officials the chance to meet up with representatives from universities they already have relationships with, such as Universidad del Norte in Colombia and the University of Ghana, while also meeting with and hearing ideas from potential new collaborators.
“It’s going to be a real wonderful opportunity to network, to say hello to old friends and to welcome new friends and to see if we can continue to build the spirit of younger universities really leading out into the future,” said Brindley.
And building new relationships, he added, helps all sides learn from each other.
“If you think about the grand challenges of the 21st century, the challenges that students in our universities now are going to have to solve, it’s going to take more than one university on one continent to lead this work out," he said. "It’s going to take consortiums of universities, it’s going to take a real spirit of partnership that crosses over continents.”
In addition, he said, it's not just an honor for the school, but for the entire Tampa Bay area as well.
“It’s also a reflection that USF has arrived," said Brindley. "We are developing a global reputation, our branding is becoming globally known and we’re in a region that is rapidly growing and rapidly building its global reputation as well."
The Times Higher Education Young Universities Summit takes place in downtown Tampa and on USF's Tampa campus through Thursday.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to indicate that the Times Higher Education "Young Universities" rankings are NOT being released for the first time this year.