What steps must an educational institution wanting to recruit good faculty take? There is a cycle in the academia:

  • Good doctorates from top universities invariably join other top universities as faculty members.
  • Good students aspire to study in top universities under excellent faculty members.

Suppose a new educational institution or department springs up and desires to set up a top-quality group, how does it break into this cycle? I suppose this could take some years, but is money-power the only thing that could be wielded by the institute to achieve its end?

5 Answers 5



First, there's very little way - I think - for a university to improve its standing across the board. Institutional reputation on the level of say, an Ivy League school, where everyone assumes each department must be excellent because they're at Ivy is a tall order, and one that I suspect is impossible.

But in a particular field (or a particular School)? Money. And the willingness to take risks. A few ways to help:

  • Find a few key faculty members. Established researchers with very solid reputations, and see if you can poach them. This might not just be a question of "how big of a check do we need to write"? There are other factors. A considerable bump in prestige. Quality of living perks. The chance to shape a promising new department in ways that you rarely get in established departments - a chance to be the formative voice in something.
  • Be looking for promising potential new hires. Maybe they're coming out of the universities you hired these key faculty members from. Maybe they're coming from top schools generally. A generous start-up package, extra lab space and internal funding, a generous tenure process - these are things that might lure top candidates away from a harder path at a more prestigious institution. It represents a risk for both parties - you might get a dud researcher with a good degree, and they might get a department languishing in obscurity. But if it works, it works very well for both.
  • Buy something big. Are there no Expensive Piece of Equipment equipped centers in the region? Become the people who have one.

In some countries, faculty members are public servants, since the state cannot give them more money, others ways have to be found to make positions attractive!

  • Extra funding for PhD students and postdocs. The state gives "free" funding to universities (=outside grants), it is conceivable that, to be attractive, a university decides to give this funding to a freshly arrived faculty member.
  • Less lectures/responsibilities. This is more touchy, but again, we can imagine that a new faculty member will have less lecture hours for a few years.
  • Hiring in the same field. When you arrive in a lab where your field is not represented, it can be depressing. If your field become a priority, then the position become attractive (better to be with "friends" in a challenger university than alone in a top one).
  • Preservation from bureaucracy. In some countries (France for instance), the administrative burden is heavy and a lot of faculty members are ready to sign up in any place that guarantees "zero" administrative tasks.

The most effective way to shoot up the rankings is to focus on a few areas, make a number of high-profile hires in those areas, and aggressively publicize the institute and recruit students. This is exactly what places like IST Vienna and KAUST in Saudi Arabia are trying to do, and is also what various departments have done in the past to boost their profile.

And yes, this takes a lot of money power.


@Sylvian raised many good intangible benefits, and I just wanted to add another one: Lab relocation. Labs take a while to set up, and training new techs takes a lot of time and effort, which translates into lost productivity. Offer to sponsor bringing over everyone from the old lab, including techs and large equipment, to speed up time to productivity.

  • Good point. This happened once to my friend who moved from one US university to UT Austin.
    – Bravo
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 4:10

Oftentimes PhD graduates from top schools join very low-ranked schools because their spouse or partner have tenure there or work in that region. Find a way to accommodate both of them and you have a winner.

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