Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Bangladeshi Universities Should Forget about Their Websites

Bangladesh has a lot of universities but none of them have succeeded in getting into the list of 417 universities included in the THE Asian University Rankings. The country's performance is worse than anywhere in South Asia. Even Nepal and Sri Lanka have managed one university each
Once again, it seems that the media and and university administrators have been persuaded that there is only one set of international rankings, those produced by Times Higher Education (THE), and that the many others, which are documented in the IREG Inventory of International Rankings, do not exist.
The response of university bureaucrats shows a lack of awareness of current university rankings and their methodologies. Dhaka University's head claimed, in an interview with the Dhaka Tribune, that if the university had provided the necessary information on its website it would be in a "prestigious position". He apparently went on to say that the problem was that the website was not up to date and that a dean has been assigned to discuss the matter.
THE does not use data from university websites. It collects and processes information submitted by institutions, bibliometric data from the Scopus database and responses to surveys. It makes no difference to THE or other rankers whether the website was updated yesterday or a decade ago.
The Vice Chancellor of Shahjahal University of Science and Technology spoke about research papers not being published on websites or noted in annual reports. Again, this makes no difference to THE or anyone else.
He was, however, correct to note that bureaucratic restrictions on the admission of foreign students would reduce the scores in those rankings that count international students as an indicator.
Universities in Bangladesh need to do some background research into the current ranking scene before they attempt to get ranked. They should be aware of the rapidly growing number of rankings. THE is not the only international ranking and it is probably unsuitable for universities in countries like Bangladesh that do not have very much income or  established reputations and are unable to participate in citation-rich global projects.
They should look at rankings with a more appropriate methodology. Dhaka University, for example, is currently ranked 504th among universities in the Scimago Institutions Rankings, which include patents, altmetrics, and web size as well as research.
Bangladeshi universities should first review the current rankings and make a note of their procedures and requirements and also consider the resources available to collect and submit data .
It would probably be a good idea to focus on Scimago and the research focussed  URAP rankings, If universities want to try for a research plus teaching ranking which require institutions to submit data then it would be better to contact the Global Institutional profile Project to get into the Round University Rankings or QS with the objective of leveraging their local reputations with academics and employers.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Do we really need a global impact ranking?

Sixteen years ago there was just one international university ranking, the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Since then rankings have proliferated. We have world rankings, regional rankings, subject rankings, business school rankings, young university rankings, employability rankings, systems rankings, and best student cities.

As if this wasn't enough, there is now a "global impact" ranking published by Times Higher Education (THE). This was announced with a big dose of breathless hyperbole as though it was something revolutionary and unprecedented. Not quite. Before THE's ranking there was the GreenMetric ranking published by Universitas Indonesia. This measured universities' contribution to sustainability through indicators like water, waste, transportation, and education and research .

THE was doing something more specific and perhaps more ambitious, measuring adherence to the Sustainable Development Goals proclaimed by the UN. Universities could submit data about eleven out of the 17 seventeen goals and a minimum of four were counted for the overall rankings, with one, partnership for the goals, being mandatory. 

The two rankings have attracted different respondents so perhaps they are complementary rather than competitive. The GreenMetric rankings include 66 universities from Indonesia, 18 from Malaysia and 61 from the USA compared to 7, 9 and 31 in the THE impact rankings. On the other hand, the THE rankings have a lot more universities from Australia  and the UK. It is noticeable that China is almost entirely absent from both (2 universities in GreenMetric and 3 in THE's).

But is there really any point in a global impact ranking? Some universities in the West seem to be doing a fairly decent job of producing research  in the natural sciences although no doubt much of it is mediocre or worse and there is also a lot of politically correct nonsense being produced in the humanities and social sciences. They have been far less successful in teaching undergraduates and providing them with the skills required by employers and professional and graduate schools. It is surely debatable whether universities should be concerned about the UN sustainable development goals before they have figured out to fulfill their  teaching mission.

Similarly, rankers have become quite adept at measuring and comparing research output and quality. There are several technically competent rankings which look at research from different viewpoints. There is the Shanghai ARWU which counts long dead Nobel and Fields laureates, the National Taiwan University ranking which counts publications over an eleven year period  period, Scimago which  includes patents, URAP with 2,500 institutions, the US News Best Global Universities which includes books and conferences.

The THE world ranking is probably the least useful of the research-dominant rankings. It gives a 30 % weighting to research which is assessed by three indicators, reputation, publications per staff and research income per staff. An improvement in the score for research could result from an improved reputation for research, an reduction in the number of academic staff, an increase in the number  of publications, an increase in research funding, or a combination of some or all of these. Students and stakeholders who want to know exactly why the research prowess of a university is rising or falling will not find THE very helpful. 

The THE world and regional rankings also have a citations indicator derived from normalised citations impact. Citations are benchmarked against documents in 300+ fields, five document types and five years of publications. Further, citations to documents with less that a thousand authors are not fractionalised. Further again, self-citations are allowed. And again, there is a regional modification or country bonus applied to half of the indicator, dividing a universities impact score by the square root of the score of the country in which it is located. This means that every university except those in the country with the highest score goes up, some a bit and some a lot.

The result of all this is a bit of a mess. Over the last few years we have seen institutions rise to glory at the top of the citations that should never have been there, usually because they have succeeded in combining  a small number of publications with participation in a mega project with hundreds of authors and affiliated universities and thousands of citations. Top universities for research impact in the 2018-19 world rankings include Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, the University of Reykjavik, the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and Anglia Ruskin University. 

There is something disturbing about university leaders queuing up to bask in the approval of an organisation that seems to think that Babol Norshirvani University of Technology has a greater research influence than anywhere else in the world. The idea that a ranking organisation that cannot publish a plausible list of influential research universities should have the nerve to start talking about measuring global impact is quite surprising.

Most rankers have done better at evaluating research than THE. At least they have not produced indicators as ridiculous as the normalised citations indicator. Teaching, especially undergraduate teaching, is another matter. Attempts to capture the quality of  university teaching have been far from successful. Rankers have tried to measure inputs such as income or faculty resources or have conducted surveys but these are at best very indirect indicators. It seems strange that they should now turn their attention to various third missions.

Of course, research and teaching are not the only thing that universities do. But until international ranking organisations have worked out how to effectively compare universities for the quality of learning and teaching or graduate employability it seems premature to start trying to measure anything else. 

It is likely though that many universities will welcome the latest THE initiative. Many Western universities faced with declining standards and funding and competition from the East will welcome the opportunity to find something where they can get high scores that will help with branding and promotion.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Where is the real educational capital of the world?

Here is another example of how rankings, especially those produced by Times Higher Education (THE), are used to mislead the public.

The London Post has announced that London is the Higher Educational Capital of the World for 2019. Support for this claim is provided by four London universities appearing in the top 40 of the THE World University Rankings which, unsurprisingly, have been welcomed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

In addition, THE has Oxford and Cambridge as first and second in the world in their overall rankings and QS has declared London to be the Best Student City.

THE is not the only global ranking. There are now several others and none of them have Oxford in first place. Most of them give the top spot to Harvard, although in the QS world rankings it is MIT and in the GreenMetric rankings Wageningen.

Also, if we look at the number of universities in the top 50 of the Shanghai rankings we cannot see London as the undisputed HE capital of the world. Using this simple criterion it would be New York with three, Columbia, New York University and Rockefeller.

Then come Boston, Paris, Chicago and London with two each.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Resources alone may not be enough

Universitas 21 has just published its annual ranking of higher education systems. There are four criteria each containing several metrics: resources, connectivity, environment and output.
The ranking has received a reasonable amount of media coverage although not as much as THE or QS.

A comparison of the ranks for the Resources indicator, comprising five measures of expenditure, and for Output, which includes research, citations, performance on rankings, graduation rates and enrolments, produces some interesting insights. There are countries such as Denmark and Switzerland that do well for both. China, Israel and some European countries seem to be very good at getting a high output from the resources available. There are others, including Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia, that appear to have adequate or more than adequate resources but whose rank for output is not so high. 

These are of course limited indicators and it could perhaps just be a matter of time before the resources produce the desired results. The time for panic or celebration may not have arrived yet. Even so, it does seem that some countries or cultures are able to make better use of their resources than others.

The table below orders countries according to the difference between their ranks for resources and for output. Ireland is 20 places higher for output than it is for resources. India is seven places lower.

The relatively poor performance for Singapore is surprising given that country's reputation for all round excellence. Possibly there is a point where expenditure on higher education runs into diminishing or even negative returns.

South Korea
Czech Republic
New Zealand
South Africa
Hong Kong
Saudi Arabia

Thursday, April 04, 2019

What to do to get into the rankings?

I have been asked this question quite a few times. So finally here is an attempt to answer it.

If you represent a university that is not listed in any rankings, except uniRank and Webometrics, but you want to be, what should you do?

Where are you now?
The first thing to do is to find out where you are in the global hierarchy of universities. 

Here the Webometrics rankings are very helpful. These are now a mixture of web activity and research indicators and provide a rank for over 28,000 universities or places that might be considered universities, colleges, or academies of some sort. 

If you are ranked in the bottom half of Webometrics then frankly it would be better to concentrate on not going bankrupt and getting or staying accredited.

But if you are in the top 10,000 or so then you might  be able to think about getting somewhere in some sort of ranking.

Where do you want to be?
Nearly everybody in higher education who is not hibernating has heard of the Times Higher Education (THE) world and regional rankings. Some also know about the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) or the Shanghai rankings. But there are now many more rankings that are just as good as, or in some cases better than, the "big three".
According to the IREG inventory published last year there are now at least 45 international university rankings including business school, subject, system and regional rankings, of which 17 are global rankings, and there will be more to come. This inventory provides links and some basic preliminary information about all the rankings but it already needs updating.

The methodology and public visibility of the global rankings varies enormously. So, first you have to decide what sort of university you are and what you want to be. You also need to think about exactly what you want from a ranking, whether it is fuel for the publicity machine or an accurate and valid assessment of research performance.  

If you want to be a small high quality research led institution with lavish public and private funding, something like Caltech, then the THE world rankings would probably be appropriate. They measure income three different ways, no matter how wastefully it is spent, and most of the indicators are scaled according to number of staff or students. They also have a citations indicator which favours research intensive institutions like Stanford or MIT along with some improbable places like Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, Brighton and Sussex Medical School or Reykjavik University.

If, however, your goal is to be a large comprehensive research and teaching university then the QS or the Russia-based Round University Rankings might be a better choice. The latter has all the metrics of the THE rankings except one plus another eight, all with sensible weightings.

If you are a research postgraduate-only university then you would not be eligible for the overall rankings produced by QS or THE but you could be included in the Shanghai Rankings.

Data Submission

Most rankings rely on publicly accessible information. However these global rankings use include information submitted by the ranked institution:  QS world rankings, THE world rankings, Round University Ranking, US News Best Global Universities, U-Multirank, UI GreenmetricCollecting, verifying and submitting data can be a very tiresome task so it  would be well to consider whether there are sufficient informed and conscientious staff available. U-Multirank is especially demanding in the the amount and quality of data required.

List of Global Rankings
Here is the list of the 17 global rankings included in the IREG inventory with comments about the kind of university that is likely to do well in them. 

CWTS Leiden Ranking
This is a research only ranking by a group of bibliometric experts at Leiden University. There are several indicators starting with the total number of publications, headed by Harvard followed by the University of Toronto, and ending with the percentage of publications in the top 1% of journals, headed by Rockefeller University. 

CWUR World University Rankings
Now produced out of UAE, this is an unusual and not well-known ranking that attempts to measure alumni employment and the quality of education and faculty. At the top it generally resembles more conventional rankings.

Emerging/Trendence Global University Employability Rankings
Published in but not produced by THE, these are based on a survey of employers in selected countries and rank only 150 universities.

Nature Index
A research rankine based on a very select group of journals. Also includes non-university institutions. The current leader is the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This ranking is relevant only for those universities aiming for the very top levels of research in the natural sciences.

National Taiwan University Rankings 
A research ranking of current publications and citations and those over a period of eleven years. It favours big universities with the  current top ten including the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan.

QS World University Rankings
If you are confident of building a local reputation then this is the ranking for you. There is a 40 % weighting for academic reputation and 10 % for employer reputation. Southeast Asian universities often do well in this ranking.

This now has two measures of web activity, one of citations and one of publications. It measures quantity rather than quality so there is a chance here for mass market institutions to excel. 

Reuters Top 100 Innovative Universities
This is definitely for the world's technological elite.

Round University Rankings
These rankings combines survey and institutional data  from Clarivate's Global Institutional Profiles Project and bibliometric data from the.Web of Science Core Collection. They are the most balanced and comprehensive of the general world rankings although hardly known outside Russia.

Scimago Institution Rankings
These combine indicators of research, innovation measured by patents and web activity. They tend to favour larger universities that are strong in technology.

Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
These are the oldest of the global rankings with a simple and stable methodology. They are definitely biased towards large, rich, old research universities with strengths in the natural sciences and a long history of scientific achievement.

THE World University Rankings
The most famous of the international rankings, they claim to be sophisticated, rigorous, trusted etc but are biased towards UK universities. The citations indicator is hopelessly and amusingly flawed. There are a number of spin-offs that might be of interest to non-elite universities such as regional, reputation, young universities and, now, global impact rankings.

Contains masses of information about things that other rankings neglect but would be helpful mainly to universities looking for students from Europe.

UI GreenMetric Ranking 
This is published by Universitas Indonesia and measures universities' contribution to environmental sustainability. Includes a lot of Southeast Asian universities but not many from North America. Useful for eco-conscious universities.

uniRank University Ranking
This is based on web popularity derived from several sources. In many parts of Africa it serves as a measure of general quality.

University Ranking by Academic Performance
A research ranking produced by the Middle East Technical University in Ankara that ranks 2,500 universities. It is little known outside Turkey but I noticed recently that it was used in a presentation at a conference in Malaysia.

US News Best Global Universities
Sometimes counted as one of the big four but hardly ever the big three, this is a research ranking that is balanced and includes 1,250 universities. For American universities is a useful complement to the US News' America's best Colleges.

You will have to decide whether to take a short-term approach to rankings, by recruiting staff from the Highly Cited Researchers list, admitting international students regardless of ability, sending papers to marginal journals and conferences, signing up for citation-rich mega projects, or by concentrating on the underlying attributes of an excellent university, admitting students and appointing and promoting faculty for their cognitive skills and academic ability, encouraging genuine and productive collaboration, nurturing local talent.

The first may produce quick results or nice bonuses for administrators but it can leave universities at the mercy of the methodological tweaking of the rankers, as Turkish universities found out in 2015.

The latter will take years or decades to make a difference and unfortunately that may be too long for journalists and policy makers.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The THE-QS duopoly

Strolling around the exhibition hall at the APAIE conference in Kuala Lumpur, I gathered a pile of promotional literature from various universities.

As expected, a lot of this referred to international university rankings. Here are some examples.

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan: THE Japan University Rankings 21st, QS World Rankings Asia 100% for internationalisation.

Yonsei University, Korea: QS Asia University Rankings 19th

Hanyang University, Korea: QS, Reuters Asia's Innovative 100 universities

Sabinci University, Turkey: THE

University of Malaya: QS world rankings 87th

Hasanuddin University: QS Asian Rankings, Webometrics

Keio University, QS, THE, Asia Innovative Universities

Novosibirsk State University, Russia: QS World, EECA and subject rankings

China University of Geosciences; US News Best Global Universities.

Mahidol University, Thailand, cites US News, GreenMetric, THE, National Taiwan University, uniRank, URAP,, and QS.

The QS- THE duopoly seems to be holding up fairly well but there are signs that some universities are exploring other international rankings.

Also, in a report on Malaysia, Prof Nordin Yahaya of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia referred to URAP, produced by the Middle East Technical University, to measure the country's research performance.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Global University Rankings and Southeast Asia

Global University Rankings and Southeast Asia
Paper presented at Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, Kuala Lumpur 26 March 2019

Global rankings began in a small way in 2003 with the publication of the first edition of the Shanghai Rankings. These were quite simple, comprising six indicators that measured scientific research. Their purpose was to show how far Chinese universities had to go to reach world class status. Public interest was limited although some European universities were shocked to find how far they were behind English-speaking institutions.
Then came the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) – Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. Their methodology was very different from that of Shanghai, relying heavily of a survey of academic opinion. In most parts of the world interest was limited and the rankings received little respect but Malaysia was different. The country’s flagship university, Universiti Malaya (UM), reached the top one hundred, an achievement that was cause for great if brief celebration. That achievement was the result of an error on the part of the rankers, QS, and in 2005 UM crashed out of the top 100.

Current Ranking Scene
International rankings have made substantial progress over the last decade and a half. In 2003 there was one, Shanghai. Now according to the IREG Inventory there are 45 international rankings of which 17 are global, plus subject, regional, system, business school and sub- rankings.
They cover a broad range of data that could be of interest to students, researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders. They include metrics like number of faculty and students, income, patents, web activity, publications, books, conferences, reputation surveys, patents, and contributions to environmental sustainability.

Rankings and Southeast Asia
For Malaysia the publication of the THES-QS rankings in 2004 was the beginning of years of interest, perhaps obsession, with the rankings. The country has devoted resources and support to gain favourable places in the QS rankings.
Singapore has emphasised both the QS and THE rankings since that unpleasant divorce in 2009. It has hosted the THE academic summit and has performed well in nearly all rankings especially in the THE and QS world rankings.
A few universities in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have been included at the lower levels of rankings such as those published by the University of Leiden, National Taiwan University, Scimago, THE and QS.
Other countries have shown less interest. Myanmar and Cambodia are included only in the Webometrics and uniRank rankings, which include thousands of places with the slightest pretension of being a university or college.

Inclusion and Performance
There is considerable variation in the inclusiveness of the rankings. There are five Southeast Asian universities in the Shanghai Rankings and 3,192 in Webometrics.
Among Southeast Asian universities Singapore is clearly the best performer, followed by Malaysia, while Myanmar is the worse.

The declaration of targets with regard to rankings is a common strategy across the world.  Malaysia has a specific policy of getting universities into the QS rankings, 4 in the top 200, 2 in the top 100 and one in the top 25.
In Thailand the 20-year national strategy aims at getting at least five Thai universities into the top 100 of the world rankings.
Indonesia wants to get five specified universities into the QS top 500 by 2019 and a further six by 2024.

The Dangers of Rankings
The cruel reality is that we cannot escape rankings. If all the current rankings were banned and thrown into an Orwellian memory hole then we would simply revert to informal and subjective rankings that prevailed before.
If we must have formal rankings then they should be as valid and accurate as possible and they should take account of the varying missions of universities and their size and clientele and they should be as comprehensive as possible.
To ignore the data that rankings can provide is to seriously limit public awareness. At the moment Southeast Asian universities and governments seem interested mainly or only in the QS rankings or perhaps the THE rankings.
To focus on any single ranking could be self-defeating. Take a look at Malaysia’s position in the QS rankings. It is obvious that UM, Malaysia’s leading university in most rankings, does very much better in the QS rankings than in every single ranking, except the GreenMetric rankings.
Why is this? The QS rankings allot a 40 % weighting to a survey of academic opinion supposedly about research, more than any other ranking. They allow universities to influence the composition of survey respondents, by submitting names or by alerting researchers to the sign-up facility where they can take part in the survey.
To their credit, QS have published the number of survey respondents by country. The largest number is from the USA with almost as many from the UK. The third largest number of respondents is from Malaysia, more than China and India combined. Malaysian universities do much better in the academic survey than they do for citations.
It is problematical to present UM as a top 100 university. It has a good reputation among local and regional researchers but is not doing so well in the other metrics especially research of the highest quality.
There is also a serious risk that the performance in the QS ranking is precarious. Already countries like Russia, Colombia, Iraq, and Kazakhstan are increasing their representation in the QS survey. More will join them. The top Chinese universities are targeting the Shanghai rankings but one day the second tier may try out for the QS rankings.
Also, any university that relies too much on the QS rankings could easily be a victim of methodological changes. QS has, with good reason, revamped its methodology several times and this can easily affect the scores of universities through no fault or credit of their own. This may have happened again during the collection of data for this year’s rankings. QS recently announced that universities can either submit names of potential respondents or alert researchers to the sign-up facility but not, as in previous years, both. Universities that have not responded to this change may well suffer a reduced score in the survey indicators.
If not QS, should another ranking be used for benchmarking and targets? Some observers claim that Asian universities should opt for the THE rankings which are alleged to be more rigorous and sophisticated and certainly more prestigious.
That would be a mistake. The value of the THE rankings, but not their price, is drastically reduced by their lack of transparency so that it is impossible, for example, to tell whether a change in the score for research results from an increase in publications, a decline in the number of staff, an improved reputation or an increase in research income.
Then there is the THE citations indicator. This can only be described as bizarre and ridiculous.
Here are some of the universities that appeared in the top 50 of last year’s citation indicator which supposedly measures research influence or quality: Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, Brighton and Sussex medical School, Reykjavik University, Anglia Ruskin University Jordan University of Science and Technology, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University.

1.      It is not a good idea to use any single ranking but if one is to be then it should be one that is methodologically stable and technically competent and does not emphasise a single indicator. For research, probably the best bet would be the Leiden Ranking. If a ranking is needed that includes metrics that might be related to teaching and learning then Round University Rankings would be helpful.
2.  Another approach would be to encourage universities to target more than one university.
3.     A regional database should be created that would provide information about ranks and scores in all relevant rankings and data about faculty, students, income, publications, citations and so on.
4.     Regional universities should work to develop measures of the effectiveness of teaching and learning.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rankings Uproar in Singapore

Singapore has been doing very well in the global university rankings lately. In the recent QS world rankings the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are 11th and 12th respectively and 23rd and 51st in the Times Higher Education  (THE) rankings.

Their performance in other rankings is good but not so remarkable. In the Shanghai rankings NUS is 85th and NTU 96th. In the Round University Rankings, which combine teaching and research indicators, they are 50th and 73rd. In the CWUR rankings, which attempt to measure student and faculty, they are 103rd and 173rd. In the CWTS Leiden Ranking publications count they are 34th and 66th.

The universities have performed well across a broad range of indicators and in nearly all of the international rankings. They do, however, perform much better  in the QS and THE rankings than in others. 

There are now at least 45 international rankings of various kinds, including global, regional, subject, system and business school rankings. See the IREG Inventory of International Rankings which already needs updating.  Singapore usually ignores these except for the QS and the THE world and regional rankings. The NUS website proudly displays the ranks in the QS and THE rankings and mentions Reuters Top 75 Asian Innovative Universities but there is nothing about the others.

Singapore's success is the the result of a genuine drive for excellence in research powered by a lot of money and rigorous selection but there also seems to be a careful and perhaps excessive cultivation of links with the UK rankers.

A few years ago, for example, World Scientific Publishing, which used to provide a database for the THES-QS academic survey, published a book co-authored by a NTU academic on how to succeed in the IELTS exam. It was entitled Top the IELTS: Opening the Gates to Top QS-ranked Universities.

There have been complaints that Singapore has become obsessed with rankings, that local researchers and teachers are marginalised, and that the humanities and social sciences are neglected.

An article in the Singapore magazine Today reported that there had been a high and damaging turnover of faculty  in the humanities and social sciences. They were oppressed by demands for publications and citations, key performance indicators which were often changed without warning, an emphasis on the hard sciences and a damaging pursuit of glory in the rankings. Several faculty have departed and this has supposedly had an adverse effect on departments in the humanities and social sciences.

I sympathise with scholars outsider the harder sciences who have to deal with bureaucrats unfamiliar with the publication and citation practices of various disciples. I recall once attending an interview  with an Asian university for a job teaching English where a panel of engineers and administrators wanted to know why my publications were so few. First on the list was a book of 214 pages which would be the equivalent of 20 papers in the natural sciences. It was not co-authored which would make it the equivalent in bulk of about eighty natural science papers with four authors apiece. Next was an article that was one of the most frequently cited paper in the field of genre analysis. But this was ignored. Numbers were the only thing that mattered.

But it seems that the two leading Singapore universities have not in fact neglected the disciplines outside the STEM subjects. In the QS arts and humanities ranking NUS is18th in the world and NTU 61st. In THE's they are 32nd and in the 101-125 band. 

It is also not entirely correct to suggest that the rankings generally discriminate against the social sciences and humanities. Both QS and THE now use normalisation to make sure that citation and publication counts and other metrics give due weight to those disciplines. It is certainly true that the Shanghai rankings do not count scholarship in the humanities  but they do not seem to get much publicity in Singapore.

The big problem with Singapore's  approach to rankings is that it is too concerned with the QS rankings with their emphasis on reputation surveys and international orientation and the THE rankings which also have reputation and international indicators and three different measures of income. This has resulted in ranking successes that even Singaporeans found difficult to believe. Does NTU really have an academic reputation greater than that of Johns Hopkins, Duke, and King's College London? Meanwhile other rankings that are more stable and reliable are simply ignored.

The Today article has been withdrawn apparently for legal reasons. There may be genuine concerns about defamation but it seems that that someone is a bit heavy handed. This may be self defeating since the dissident academics are unlikely to get very much public sympathy. One complained that his door had been defaced while he was on sabbatical. Another took to his bed for days at a time because of the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy.

There has been more debate since. Linda Lim and Pang Eng Fong, emeriti of Michigan State University and Singapore Management University, argue in the South China Morning Post that the emphasis on rankings is damaging to Singapore because it discourages academics from doing research that is relevant to social policy. They argue that citations are a key metric in the rankings and that the top journals favor research that is of theoretical significance in STEM subjects rather than local research in the humanities and social sciences. 

This seems exaggerated. Citations count for 30% of the THE rankings, which is probably too much and 30% of QS's. Both of then, and other rankings, now have processes that reduce the
he bias to the natural sciences in citations, publications and reputation surveys. In fact QS have claimed that the weighting given to its academic reputation indicator was precisely to give a level playing field to the humanities and social sciences.

They refer to Teo You Yenn a researcher at NTU who has written a book for a commercial publisher that has received a lot of attention but is unlikely to advance her career.

Dr Teo, however, is an Associate Professor and has a very respectable publishing record of articles in leading journals on family, migration, inequality, gender, and poverty in Singapore. Some are highly cited, although not as much as papers in medical research or particle physics. It seems that a focus on elite journals and rankings has done nothing to stop research on social policy issues.

The state and the universities are unlikely to be swayed from their current policy. It would, however, be advisable for them to think about their focus on the QS and THE rankings. Reputation, financial and international indicators are the backbone of Singapore's ranking success. But they can be easily emulated by other countries with supportive governments and the help of benchmarking and reputation management schemes.