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The middle-income trap is an economic phenomenon to describe economies that have stagnated at the middle-income level and failed to progress into the high-income level. Inspired by this economic concept, this paper explores a hypothesis: is there a 'mid-rank trap' for universities in the exercise to rank universities globally' Using the rankings between 2004 and 2014 that were jointly and separately developed by Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds Company, this paper argues that there is indeed a phenomenon, which I term as 'mid-rank trap' whereby universities remain stagnant for a decade in a similar band of the rankings. Having established the hypothesis for universities, the paper examines policies and interventions that have been successfully carried out to elevate economies away from the middle-income trap, and importantly, to draw out the underlying principles of these economic policies and interventions that can be incorporated into policymaking and strategic planning for universities using the Malaysian higher education system as a case study.
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