The rankings conundrum

Everyone in academia must be finding it extremely frustrating when their fate is decided upon annually via an international rankings that appear only to highlight the volatility of one’s rank. Times Higher Education claims to be the global authority in higher education. One wonders just how much haggling goes on behind the scenes.
From timeshighereducation.co.uk

It is, of course, rather crude to reduce universities to a single number.

We are aware that higher education institutions are extraordinarily complex organisations. They do many wonderful, life-changing and paradigm-shifting things that simply cannot be measured. Data on some of their most valuable endeavours simply do not exist or cannot be meaningfully compared on a global scale; many of the proxies commonly used are less than satisfactory

The 2010-11 Times Higher Education World University Rankings have been compiled with these limitations very much in mind.

These limitations would have made many trials a failure. It is a fatal flaw which means that much of the information is highly inaccurate. Some universities excel in undergraduate studies while others are renowned for their research prowess. Based on their geographical location, some universities have their niche areas of research. For example, Memorial University in St John’s Newfoundland excels in oceanography as compared to Harvard or even Cambridge University. University Malaya may have better expertise in tropical medicine as campared to University of Toronto. So if a university is ranked at 200 while another is in the top 10, does that mean that the former is substandard?

The tables’ methodology was determined only after 10 months of detailed consultation with leading experts in global higher education: more than 50 senior figures across every continent provided extensive feedback on our plans, amounting to more than 250 pages of commentary. The wider university community also had its say via more than 300 postings on our website.

How can 50 senior figures and 300 postings determine the fate of more than 200 universities? Did they personally visit each and every faculty in each and every university? Or is this at best based on hearsay??

Why is it necessary to do rankings annually? Is academic excellence based on a yearly time frame?? Does excellence in one year count for nothing if another is dismal??

Ultimately, Times Higher Education has finally made themselves relevant since 2004 by claiming to give the most accurate picture there is on the best universities in the world.

Of course universities in the developed world will continue to suppress those from the less developed by virtue of less staffing and funding. The limited resources will have made it an unfair playing ground with terms decided upon by individuals in these developed countries.

Of course, Times Higher Education would love to continue with this annually. It is like scoring with the “American Idol” franchise. Just the amount of advertisements from foreign universities at their website speaks volumes on the revenue that this ranking system generates.

What a coup it is to now own a university rankings franchise, much to the chagrin of many true academicians.

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