Tuesday, June 26, 2012

University Ranking Rankles: Playing the Prestige Game

The Monash Art and Design Faculty at Caulfield...
The Monash Art and Design Faculty at Caulfield Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Robert Nelson, Associate Director Student Experience at Monash University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

Australian universities compete with providers all over the globe. The stakes are high and it is hard to ignore world rankings.

In The Conversation recently, however, University of Southern Queensland’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jan Thomas, questioned the value of rankings locally, and outlined why her university steers clear of rankings altogether.

Ranking Rivalries

Australian universities naturally want to perform well against our international rivals and attract good students and the best staff. But in the domestic context, rankings have a discriminatory effect for little gain, marginalising and devaluing the work of smaller universities.

The corrosive effect of rankings may not be confined to regional institutions or urban universities outside the Group of Eight (Go8). All universities are understandably jealous of their brand and project this immaterial asset as forcefully as they can.

For some, the rank achieved on league tables reinforces domestic marketing strategies as well as those abroad. One could argue that this emphasis fosters prejudice among prospective students. Advertising promiscuously by any mark of distinction, the sector encourages students to see universities through properties sometimes little better than snob-value.

Rankings tend to validate this bias, with much swagger and presumption among the proud, to the point that even academics view their institutions through performance in rankings, rather than their own experiences.

But inevitably, rankings yield only a partial picture. Consider the great influence that research income has upon many indicators. Any university with a medical faculty is likely to be able to show greater per capita research funding than a university without a medical faculty, because medical research is expensive.

The engorged research budget of a big university with costly sciences does not mean that research in any other field in the university (much less teaching) is superior than in counterparts without a medical faculty.

Alas, the university with the bigger research budget will automatically rank higher and is assumed to have preeminence - a distinction that hardly amounts to good science.

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/university-ranking-rankles-playing-the-prestige-game-7541?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+26+June+2012&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+26+June+2012+CID_c03147513d3d1955758240e2885dc0c4&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=University+ranking+rankles+playing+the+prestige+game
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