Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QS ranking downright shady and unethical

Would anyone not under the influence of drugs believe that NUS and NTU are better universities than Princeton, Cornell or Yale? Well, some Singaporeans are gloating over this great achievement by the two local universities, no ill intent in my statement as one is my alma mater. I should be proud that my alma mater is better than top Ivy League universities in the US. Soon many top American universities would be asking for joint NUS degrees to boost up their reputation instead of Singapore begging to host joint Singapore American university degrees here.

Some of the Singaporeans that were so impressed with the rankings are the uninformed or ill informed uncles in the kopitiams and aunties in the wet market. I heard them chirping about it with great excitement, and I can understand, given their exposure and lack of understanding on the QS criteria for judging.

Ok, maybe on face value, maybe the top American universities are living on their past glories while NUS and NTU are what they are today by today's standard. The good American universities were good in the past but no longer. Time has changed. For the well informed, the comments are different and some are outright cynical of the outcome with good reasons. Below are some comments taken from the onlinecitizen.

'On Thursday (8 June), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was named Asia’s top university in the 2018 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, surpassing the National University of Singapore (NUS).

NTU is also ranked 11th in the world, ranking above other notable institutions such as Princeton University, Cornell University and Yale University, and two positions above its previous 13th spot.

Below is a response written by John Ouserhout on question-and-answer site, Quora on the question of "How accurate are the 2018 QS rankings? They seem to rank Nanyang Tech higher than Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and Berkeley."


Ouserhout's response in full

First impressions suggest it is almost laughably inaccurate. UC Berkeley at #27? This is the same university that is affiliated with 91 Nobel Laureates, 13 Fields Medals, 23 Turing Awards and 16 elements of the Periodic Table. The rest of the ranking seems similarly strange as well; NUS and NTU ranked right alongside or higher than Princeton, Cornell, Yale, Columbia and Johns Hopkins?

(Haha, this Ouserhout does not know of the many great Nobel laureates hiding in the Singapore universities or akan datang, ie coming soon, going to happen).

Is it just my Anglo-American bias speaking? I know these universities have made rapid strides in funding and encouraging cutting edge research, so perhaps it’s inevitable that they’ve caught up and surpassed the more well known Ivy League universities. That is obviously partly the case, but after digging around for a bit, there seems to be a whole host of articles about the flawed methodology and downright shady practices of the QS organisation.

Some of the flaw methodology include counting more foreign students and faculty as good without any relations to academic merits. More foreigners mean more points. How silly.

And 50% of the points come from surveys from Academics and Employers. Look, there are hundreds of good American universities and only 2 or 3 good Singapore universities. In the latter, all the scores would go to these 2 or 3 universities while in the US the scores would be thinly spread. See the flaw? Which university would the Employers hired from? In the US they could hire from hundreds of universities but only 2/3 in Singapore.

Ouserhout went on with many other flaws in the methodology. Below are a few more.

Secondly, QS’s business model is really shady:

  • A dubious Star ranking system, where universities pay to be evaluated. (Conflicts of interest anyone?)
  • ‘Branding Opportunities’ for $80,000 with QS Showcase
  • A highly lucrative ‘consultancy service’ to help universities rise up the rankings

In short, ranking systems might have their flaws, but this one is downright shady and unethical.

No need to say anything more, just let the daft to gloat over this mirage as a badge of honour.  I don’t blame the uncles in the kopitiams or the aunties in the wet market. I understand where they are coming from. Would any reputable academics bother to question the allegation by Ouserhout that the ranking system 'is downright shady and unethical'?

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