What makes an institution top quality? What are the elements that make any University worth going to? Is it history? Are the Professors? Is it technological or research capacity? Such questions are asked every year by thousands, maybe even millions of students across the globe. Any student planning to make the step toward higher education would be forced at some point to address the fundamental question (whether directly or indirectly) as to what defines a ‘top-notch’ University.
This is the time of year when students across the world begin to explore the opportunities concerning the future field of their study. In Eastern Europe and in countries like Serbia, thousands of students are preparing for an exam, commonly known as ‘prijemni ispit’ (entrance exam), for the various departments to which they want to apply. For any diligent student, the quality of a University would have the supreme importance.
One of the most important questions is: what an average student is looking for when he assesses a top quality University? In an attempt to gain a broad base of opinions I spoke with Tachina Preau, a final year student of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies located in the Caribbean island of Trinidad. She noted that for her, good administration on the part of staff had a high priority. In addition, a wide range of courses would surely make a University competitive and attractive to students. Another student, Kevaughn John, from the State University of New York in Canton noted that as a top quality University he considers the one that provides students sufficiently one on one time with Professors and good lecturers. In addition, a substantial international student population would prefer more attractive destination, while an emphasis on extra-curricular activities like sports would surely ensure the development of a holistic student.
All of these characteristics were not wrong in any fundamental way. However, insufficient emphasis was placed on the most important element of any University – the student. Any higher-educational institution must recognise the significance of their students, but more important the students themselves must recognise their own importance.
The quality of a University or any institution for that matter is fundamentally dependant on the quality of its members, and specifically in this case – students. The main criteria for the evaluation of any University for the most part, would depend on quality of students which produces.
Furthermore, it is not the institution that largely determines the quality of the student, but rather the student himself. The student himself should independently decide how to allocate his time, how much effort to invest into his work and what kind of quality will produce his work . Regardless of how good an institution may be ‘on paper’, without the full participation and engagement of its students it lacks the impetus to grow and to improve.
An exceptional faculty of Professors, staff and the relevant technological resources are all indispensible parts of any University that aspires to be considered of a high quality, but too often a lack of appreciation is given for the capacity of students and the students in general to improve the standing of their own University.
The reason why the University of Belgrade is to be considered a ‘top-notch’ institution is not because it may be highly ranked on a specific list (as important and laudable as this may be), but because it contains within its students the capacity to consistently improve, in addition to produce graduates of a high quality.
Finally, it should be emphasised that no academic institution could replace its students. The most essential asset of any University it’s not physical structure, nor technological resources, it is not the vast financial assets it may have, but rather the multitude of young minds it possesses.
So in answering the fundamental question what makes a great University, or ‘top-notch’, the answer is the students themselves. They determine the standards of the institution by the diligence they apply to their studies, and they would determine the image of the University by their levels of success in the future.
Author: Mikhail E.D. Byng