Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seriously, Singapore NTU is Number One University; but ….

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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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

University Rankings - be the best

Behind the success of Singapore universities
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Posted by Abhijit Nag in

Congratulations, Nanyang Technological University. NTU is now No 1 among all the universities in the world that are less than 50 years old, according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. The question now: Will the university have more Singaporean postgraduates?

We should aim to be the best in the whole world. Maybe we will get there if we change all the teaching staff to foreigners. If that does not work, we can fill the universities with foreign students. That should do it.

Come on, let's get it done. Be Number One, be better than the Harvards, Stanfords, Yales, Cambridges and Oxfords. Aspire to be the best like aiming for the World Cup.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anoop Shankar – Would NUS World Rankings be affected

The revelation of a ‘genius’ professor (Singapore has this fetish craving for geniuses) who was an academic staff of NUS but got caught with his pants down, with fake credentials in the US is sending a little tremor around our reputable institutions of higher learnings. We have carefully honed our skills by gaming the ranking systems, oops, I mean by making sure that we followed the norms set by international agencies, not intentionally of course, to raise our rankings to be among the top universities in the world. We are definitely not gaming, otherwise if the criteria demand having a monkey as a professor, they would have appointed a monkey to the staff too. Now doing that would be gaming. We are quite near to the class of Harvard and Cambridge, beating many top Ivy League universities in the US and UK. And we achieved this by sheer quality of the institutions and the staff.
Now we have this dubious honour of sharing in the hiring of a fake as an academic staff and publishing many papers to help in our rankings. How would this affect our university’s rankings? Is this another one of those, ‘it happens once in 50 years’ cases? If it is so, then we should thank God that it would not cause too much damage to our reputation. If it is not the case, and many more are fakes, then we will have a very embarrassing problem at hand.
How would we know that there are other fakes in the academia? The only way to find out is to comb through with a fine brush, the academic qualifications of the staff, especially the foreigners. The question is, do we want to do this and risk our rankings and reputations tumbling to the abyss? My suggestion is not to do anything. Let it be. Then we can keep our rankings and the integrity of the institutions? Did I say integrity? Oops, wrong choice of word definitely. Change that to reputation.
How many people really think that there is a need for a thorough investigation in the academia for fraudsters? This disease of having fakes and fraudsters in the whole island has been spreading and the writing has been on the wall for too long. And it is not only in the academia! It is something that must be done and in a hurry. But no one bothers. Or is this problem already known in the closed circles and the solution is to announce that no degrees also can if one can perform, and can be promoted to high positions too. Definitely not! These are two separate issues.
Do we have a problem? Yes, no? Do we want to acknowledge that we have a problem? Do we then want to address this problem? If all the answers are no, then we have no problems and Rip Van Winkle can go back to sleep for another 50 years. We can continue to plan for the big 50 year celebrations and party.
Some say the best solution to a nasty problem is to look the other way. Don’t talk about it, don’t do anything is the best.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ex NUS prof resume fraud

In the ST today, former asst professor of NUS ‘who landed a prestigious position at a United States university is now at the centre of a sensational fraud investigation’. Anoop Shankar’s resume includes ‘a doctorate in epidemiology, graduated from India’s top medical school when he was 21, was a member of the prestigious Royal College of Physicians and had been awarded a “genius” visa to America’.

I must say that was impressive. And more impressive, he was at the Duke NUS Graduate Medical School and his 3 papers with Associate Professor Koh Woon Puay must be so good that she had no reason to doubt his talent and is standing by the joint papers.

Now that this professor Anoop Shankar has lost all his positions in the US, maybe he can come back to this talentless island to resume his position here. When a person is good he is good. Just like when a person is good, without a degree doesn’t matter. Singapore has made a quantum leap forward by looking at real talent and performance and not about a piece of paper.

The Americans were not impressed and have regarded this as ‘among the most serious of its kind, has now also sparked scrutiny into the larger issue of fraud that goes unchecked at some institutes of higher education’.

Singapore has no such worry and has no need to go on a witch hunt. All the talents landed in Singapore are genuine talents with real certificates and degrees. Even got no degree never mind, can be promoted also if they are found to be good. And best if they can impress their fellow professors that they are really good.
Shall Singapore extend another welcome to this “genius? Give him a pink IC and we will have a good catch, another talented new citizen.