View From the Top: Academic Leaders' and Funders' Insights

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From the Elsevier Announcement, dated March 12, 2024

Elsevier, a global leader in scientific information and analytics, has launched ‘View from the top: academic leaders’ and funders’ insights on the challenges ahead’, a comprehensive report that investigates the complex issues academic leaders and funders face and their preparedness to tackle them. The report also explores the strategies senior leaders are developing to leverage the opportunities that will ensure long-term success for their institutions.

The report, carried out by Ipsos, is based on in-depth interviews and quantitative research with 115 leaders of academic institutions and research funding bodies across the world. Contributors to the report included university leaders, such as Rectors, Presidents, Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, Vice-Presidents, and Provosts, and leaders from funding organizations, including CEOs, Presidents, Directors, and Chairmen.

The report includes detailed analysis of the myriad of challenges confronting academic leaders, yet clear global priorities emerge. Research tops the list, with an overwhelming majority (89%) of academic leaders viewing it as their principal challenge, underscoring the crucial role universities play in advancing science. Maintaining research excellence (93%) is a clear focal point.


The report includes an ‘issues matrix’, highlighting areas where there is a substantial gap between the perceived importance of specific topics and the level of preparedness necessary to tackle them:

  • Talent: Most academic leaders say recruiting (73%) and retaining talent (80%) is critical, yet the vast majority (93%) say they need more funding to do this. Only 11% said they felt well prepared to offer competitive renumeration and benefits to staff.
  • Demonstrating societal impact: There is growing pressure to demonstrate the broader societal impact of research beyond traditional metrics, with 80% of leaders stating this is a high priority. This includes showing impact on social mobility and alignment with global frameworks like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 79% of academic leaders agree a new approach is needed for research assessment, with 55% saying their institutions should be most concerned with providing real-world benefits. Over two-thirds (67%) of leaders consider demonstrating economic impact a high priority but less than a third (30%) say they are well prepared to do this.
  • Research facilities: Respected research facilities enhance a university's reputation and ability to attract financial support, international scholars and high-caliber teaching staff. Nearly four in five (78%) leaders surveyed consider providing facilities for research a high priority. There is a clear regional divide on this topic – this is a priority for leaders in EMEA (86%) and APAC (94%) and much less so in the Americas (50%).

Overall, the insights indicate a growing need to adapt to political, technological, and regulatory changes, which are expected to pose greater challenges in the coming years. As both governments and society continue to debate how AI should be handled and regulated, universities have yet to adjust to the rapid rise of this new technology. Although 64% of leaders rate AI governance as a top priority, fewer than a quarter (23%) feel their institutions are well prepared to adjust to the required changes. Leaders are also conscious that universities are not only expected to play a leading role in monitoring climate change but generating science-based solutions, developing new technologies and influencing policy.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Executive Summary
  • Key Findings
  • Chapter One: Enablers
  • Chapter Two: Fulfilling the Institution's Dual Mission
  • Chapter Three: Impact
  • Looking to the Future
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix

From the Executive Summary

From the Executive Summary

Universities and funding bodies face many similar challenges as they navigate their institutions to success in a fast-changing world. To tackle today’s challenges and be prepared for those to come, it is useful to gather leaders’ insights and best practices.

In April to December 2023, Elsevier worked with Ipsos to conduct two phases of interviews with a total of 115 institutional leaders from around the world – 86 held top level leadership positions at universities (‘academic leaders’) and 29 at research funding bodies (‘funders’).

The academic leaders and funders interviewed shared their perceptions as to the priority their institutions give each challenge and how well prepared they feel to tackle that challenge. In some cases, there is a gap between priority and preparedness, suggesting an area of concern.