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The Straits Times

Tertiary Education Premised On Substance, Not Ratings

The truth is that flawed as they are, many people from governments to students, depend on rakings of universities to make life-shaping decisions. That extra responsibility means rankers must make their gradings as rigorous and balanced as possible” (Ranking University Rankings, Mrs. Sandra Davie).

I read with tremendous interest the commentary, “Ranking University Rankings” (June 5, 2010) by Mrs. Sandra Davie: having just completed my university applications, we were indeed inundated by an assortment of ranking systems, each based on varying criteria and conducted differently. My counterparts who made applications overseas had to contend with a greater pool of supposed studies and rankings.

Beyond the trend that many universities have adopted corporate methodologies in administration and branding, there is a growing market for higher-education information. With increasing numbers of individuals heading for post-high school education, the appetites of millions of students, parents and educators are satisfied by an assortment of agencies which rank universities and publish findings in magazines and books. Naturally, the involved institutions work attentively to move up the common scale ranking-ladder; in attempts to boost ratings and compete aggressively. Especially in the United States (USA), higher ratings would represent greater incentives for the administrations to boost admissions and faculty strength, as well as determining pricing decision for tuition fees.

Unfortunately, it seems that our local colleges have been sucked into this vortex of rankings and competition: admission materials are splashed with facts and figures about how the school has placed significantly high on rankings et cetera. The obsession with rankings and ratings would tempt educators and institution administrators into developing aspects that are in tandem with the “criteria” established by the respective rankers. Yet these “criteria” – such as quantity of research, popularity and even wealth – hardly concern the actual pedagogies or methodologies adopted for teaching-learning. This form of overt pandering is hardly constructive or beneficial for the students; rather, more time and effort should be dedicated into focusing on enhancing existing curriculum and courses.

The local institutions should cease their reliance on rankings to determine their overall performance. The reason why there is no common consensus on a universal ranking system is simply due to the fact that each college is unique in its programmes and faculty; and with a plethora of possible combinations, it is literally impossible to create a one-size-fits-all system. Our local universities should encourage prospective students to make decisions based on their personal interests and abilities, and consider a variety of other factors, such as co-curricular engagement, overseas exposure so on and so forth.

Moving forward, the only reliable way for our tertiary institutions to remain competitive and attractive would be to endeavour into areas of improvement, and enhance existing strengths. Discerning employees and global students would ultimately appreciate true substance, instead of falling for the gloss of rankings and ratings.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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