The United Nations agency, UNESCO, challenged the validity and reliability, and therefore the usefulness, of University Rankings.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore has secured top placing on a league table of the world's best young universities. It has overtaken Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who was No. one for the past two years, according to London-based educational consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). Of what value to Singapore is this NTU “achievement”?
Well, any good researcher would know that you will get what you measure, instead of what you want to claim the measure to mean. So, what exactly does QS Ranking mean?
The United Nations agency, UNESCO, challenged the validity and reliability, and therefore the usefulness, of University Rankings:
“Global university rankings fail to capture either the meaning or divers qualities of a university or the characteristics of universities in a way that values and respects their educational and social purposes, missions and goals. At present, these rankings are of dubious value, are underpinned by questionable social science, arbitrarily privilege particular indicators, and use shallow proxies as correlates of quality.”
Indeed, Universities Ranking is itself conceptually problematic. It embraced an “idealised” model of University to be achieved and in so doing generalize the failure of most Universities to achieve it. The World-Class University has NEVER existed as a concept, or as an empirical reality. The status of “World-Class University” as the gold standard is the normative social construct of the rankers themselves.
In fact, even QS cautions against the use of the QS Ranking beyond its simple methodology and purpose “to serve the student consumer. Rankings allows the consumer to see how institutions stand against other universities." Adding: "As it became apparent that more and more undergraduate students were looking to study abroad, there was a need for an international comparison. We did not come about it from the point of view of an academic exercise with metrics."
This is a confession admitting to the fact that QS Rankings evolve around the metrics used to devise the tables including citations and peer review. The Rankers did not build their QS Rankings on any solid or vigorous foundation that would withstand the penetrative professional scrutiny of the Academics or Research Institutions which now used them to position themselves in spite of the lack of validity and reliability of these measures. Therein lies its fundamental conceptual and methodological flaw, confirming that the QS Ranking is therefore irrelevant and immaterial for any serious educational policy purpose.
In fact, QS rankers themselves were surprised at "the extent to which governments and university leaders use the rankings to set strategic targets. We at QS think this is wrong. Rankings are (just) a relative measure - if other universities do better and move up, you have to go faster."
It is just plain mindless stupidity, I may add.
QS Rankings are akin to nothing more than a Market Consumers Survey, much like how marketing agencies rank the Apple iPhone with other handphones by Blackberry, Nokia, ZTE, Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Lenovo and HTC.
Whither NTU’s Impact on Singapore? NTU President and University Management, as well as the Ministry of Education, should be more concerned about the need to increase NTU’s, and other universities’, contributions to society, instead of obsessing with the ranking game.
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