Higher Education

, Volume 70, Issue 6, pp 941–956 | Cite as

Rules of engagement: measuring connectivity in national systems of higher education

  • Gaétan de Rassenfosse
  • Ross Williams


With the advent of mass higher education and the consequent absorption of significant national resources, both public and private, it is inevitable that universities are increasingly expected to meet a range of societal needs. They are expected to ‘connect’ with society at large. In this paper, we argue that connectivity is best integrated with research, teaching and scholarship and should not be relegated to a ‘third stream’. We compare degrees of connectivity of 50 national systems of higher education using ten indicators, making a distinction between domestic and international connectivity. The strongest finding is that smaller countries exhibit the highest level of international connectivity. The higher education systems in countries with large absolute numbers of researchers such as the USA, China and Japan are relatively self-contained compared with countries such as Ireland, Switzerland and Singapore. Another finding is the relative insularity of the education sector in Eastern Europe, including the Russian Federation. When differences in levels of economic development are allowed for, among lower-income countries South Africa stands out as having a well-connected higher education sector.


University engagement Third mission Connectivity Benchmarking Ranking Universitas 21 



Gaétan de Rassenfosse’s current affiliation is College of Management, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland. The article was written when Gaétan was a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne. This work forms part of the Universitas 21 sponsored project Ranking National Systems of Higher Education located at the Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne ( We are indebted to Robert Tijssen (CWTS-Leiden) and Isidro Aguillo (Webometrics) for the provision of data. We are most grateful to the Editor and two anonymous referees who provided very insightful comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne InstituteUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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