Malice, cynicism and merciless vivisection of university rankings and topics related to the quality of higher education.
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Looking at the scores for the three indicators, academic survey, employer survey and citations per paper, we find the situation is similar to that of the engineering rankings released last month. There is a reasonably high correlation between the scores for the two surveys:
Biological Sciences .747
The correlations between the score for citations per paper and the academic survey are low but still significant:
Biological Sciences .177
The correlations between the indicator citations and the employer survey are low or very low and insignificant:
Biological Sciences .015
Looking at the top five universities for each indicator, there are no surprises as far as the surveys are concerned but some of the universities in the top five for citations do cause some eyebrow raising. Arizona State university? University of Cinncinati? Tokyo Metropolitan University? Perhaps these are hitherto unnoticed pockets of excellence of the Alexandrian kind?
Times Higher Education of April 21st has a rather disconcerting cover, a close up picture of a bonobo ape. Inside there is a long article by a graduate student at the University of British Columbia that argues that humans may have been too hasty in assuming that their current aggressive behavior is rooted in their ancestry. He suggests that humanity is more closely related to the bonobos than to the common chimpanzees. The former are peaceful, promiscuous, egalitarian, dominated by females and without hang ups about homosexuality. They sound rather like a mix between a hippie commune and a humanities faculty at an American state university or least like those places would imagine themselves to be. Common chimpanzees on the other hand are notorious for behaving like a gang of skinheads on a Saturday night.
This is a variant of a common theme in popularized social science writing. For a long time, western feminists and leftists have looked to contemporary or historical pre-modern societies for validation only to find disappointment. Margaret Mead’s free loving Samoans tuned out to be rather different while the search for mother earth worshipping matriarchies has been equally futile. Now, it seems they are forced to go back several million years. Perhaps the bonobo really are what primatologists say they are. But it would be unsurprising if they turn out to be as politically incorrect, competitive and unpleasant as the chimpanzees.
In any case, it is pseudo-science to suggest that humanity can take any other species as a model or inspiration . There are dozens of extinct species and subspecies between us and the bonobos who may have been even more gentle and promiscuous than the bonobo or even more violent and competitive than the chimpanzee.
The point of the article is found in an editorial by Ann Mroz in the same issue.
In higher education, we appear to moving from an approach based on cooperation to one based on competition, from the bonobo compact to the chimp reforms, if you like. The Browne Review launches us into a quasi-market world, which in itself has far-reaching implications. Unfortunately, it comes on top of a range of pre-existing and co-existing factors: the concentration of research funding; tighter immigration rules; cuts in teacher training and NHS cash; and internationalisation.
Some post-1992 institutions facing immediate financial constraints are moving swiftly to deal with their problems. LondonMetropolitanUniversity, for example, is cutting about 400 of its 557 degree courses, and the University of East London is planning to axe its School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Staff at the former institution describe the move as "an attempted reversal of widening participation...of everything that London Met...came into existence to promote". Staff at the latter describe its social sciences and humanities as high-performing areas. "Are UEL's non-traditional students going to be denied an academic education on the basis of managers' assumption that all such students are good for - and will be willing to pay for - is training?" they ask.
She therefore concludes.
UK universities have survived for 800 years through successful evolution in a relatively stable habitat, a context they share with the cooperative bonobo. The competitive chimpanzee, however, has had to adapt to more hostile conditions. In shaping the next stage of its evolution, the academy has the choice of emulating either the aggressive ape or the better angels of our nature.
There is a problem with this. The bonobo are close to extinction. There are only 10,000 of them left, compared with 300,000 common chimpanzees and the only reason those 10,000 have survived is that they are separated by the Congo river from the chimpanzees.
If Ann Mroz thinks British universities have evolved though cooperation over 800 years she should start by reading the novels of C. P. Snow. No doubt they have become thoroughly cooperative over the last few years as diversity workshops, collaborative projects, performance appraisals, quality audits and professional development seminars have eradicted most signs of individuality in their faculty.
But there is no Congo river separating British universities from all those nerds and buffs in Korea, China and Singapore who work 80 hours a week and refuse to cooperateand are quite uninterested in diversity, safe and comfortable environments and collegiality.
One problem with most international rankings is that they tend to measure historical quality and are not much use for predicting what will happen in the near future. The Shanghai rankings' alumni and awards criteria allow Oxbridge and some German universities to live off intellectual capital generated decades ago. The surveys of the QS rankings inevitably favour big, old, wealthy universities with years of alumni and endowments behind them. It will take a long time for any rapidly developing school to score well on the eleven year criteria in the HEEACT rankings.
I have compiled a list of the percentage change in the number of publications in ISI databases of universities in the Asia Pacific region between 2009 and 2010. The ranking includes all the universities listed in the 2009 Shanghai ARWU from the Asia Pacific region.
King Saud University is at the top of the table, almost doubling its output of papers between 2009 and 2010. Six out of the top 10 are from Greater China. Some major Japanese universities seem to be shrinking and Israel and Australia do not seem to be doing very well.
Some caveats. This is basically a measure of quantity not quality of research. Also, the results may reflect organisational changes such as the acquisition or loss of a medical school. The data were collected over several weeks, during which there could be additions to the databases so the scores were rounded out to whole numbers.
Percentage change in publications in the ISI Databases, 2009-2010
1. King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, 95
2. Shandong University, China, 16
3. National Yang Ming University, Taiwan 15
4. Tainjin University, China, 13
5. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 13
6. Sun Yat Sen University, China, 11
7. Fudan University, China, 10
8. Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand 9
9. Niigata University, Japan, 9
10. Gunma University, Japan, 9
11. Nihon University, Japan, 9
12. University of Tasmania, Australia, 9
13. Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan, 8
14. Jilin University, China, 8
15. Chang Gung University, Taiwan, 7
16. Chinese University of Hong Kong, 7
17. Massey University of New Zealand, 7
18. University of Auckland, New Zealand, 6
19. Deakin University, Australia, 6
20. La Trobe University, Australia, 6
21. Seoul National University, Korea, 6
22. Nanjing University, China, 6
23. Nankai University, Japan, 6
24 University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 6
25. Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, 6
26. Weizman Institute of Science, Israel, 6
27. Kumamoto University, Japan, 6
28. Osaka Prefecture University, Japan, 5
29. Yonsei University, Korea, 4
30. Peking University, China, 4
31. University of Haifa, Israel, 4
32. Lanzhou University, China, 3
33. James Cook University, Australia, 3
34. Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 3
35. University of Hong Kong, 3
36. University of Queensland, Australia, 3
37. China Agricultural University, 3
38. Curtin University of Technology, Australia, 3
39. University of Otago, New Zealand, 3
40. Kyungpook National University, Korea, 3
41. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, 2
42. Sichuan University, China, 3
43. Korea University, 2
44. University of Adelaide, Australia, 2
45. Dalian University of Technology, China, 2
46. Macquarie University, Australia, 2
47. Sunkyunkwan University, Korea, 2
48. Pusan National University, Korea, 1
49. Flinders University, Australia, 1
50. Shanghai Jiao Tung University, China, 1
51. University of New South Wales, Australia, 1
52. National Taiwan University, 1
53. Osaka City University, Japan, 1
54. Monash University, Astralia, 0
55. Gifu University, Japan, 0
56. Tsinghua University, China, -1
57. Hiroshima University, Japan, -1
58. Zhejiang University, China, -1
59. Pohang University of Science and Technology, Korea, -1
60. Bar Ilan University, Israel, -1
61. National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan, -1
62. Kobe University, Japan,-1
63. University of Tehran, Iran, -1
64. University of Western Australia, -2
65. University of Western Sydney, Australia, -2
66. National Tsinghua University, Taiwan, -2
67. National University of Singapore, -2
68. Harbin Institute of Technology, China, -2
69. Kanazawa University, Japan, -3
70. City University of Hong Kong, -3
71. University of Tokushima, Japan, -4
72. University of Newcastle, Australia -4
73. University of Melbourne, Australia. -4
74. Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, -4
75. Indian Institute of Science, - 4
76. Osaka University, Japan, -4
77. Kyushu Uniersity, Japan, -4
78. University of Wollongong, Australia, -4
79. Hokkaido University, Japan, -5
80. Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China, -5
81. University of Tsukuba, Japan, -5
82. University of Tokyo, Japan, -5
83. Yamaguchi University, Japan, -5
84. Hanyang University, Korea, -6
85. Hong Kong university of Science and Technlogy, -6
86. Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, -6
87. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, -6
88. Nagasaki University, Japan, -6
89. Kyoto University, Japan, -6
90. Chiba University, Japan, -6
91. Australian National University, -6
92. Kagoshima University, Japan, -7
93. Tel Aviv University, Israel. -7
94. Nagoya University, Japan, -7
95. National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, -8
97. Keio University, Japan, -8
98. Okayama University, Japan, -8
99. National Central University, Taiwan, -9
100. Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan,-9
101. Ehime University, Japan, -10
102. Tohoku University, Japan, -10
103. Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, -10
104. Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, -13
A bit of good news for Times Higher Education. Queen's University, Canada, has decided to take part in this year's THE World University Rankings.
'Rankings methodologies had come under scrutiny in recent years. Some universities including Queen’s were concerned that inconsistent criteria and data used for comparing institutions did not accurately reflect their objectives, and some have participated in rankings selectively or not at all. Last year, Queen’s decided not to submit information to the Times Higher Education ranking because of concerns about its methodology. As a result, Queen’s was not included in the Top 200 list. The Times [sic] has since changed its methodology.
“Queen’s is still concerned because the rankings focus mainly on research volume and intensity, and although Queen’s is one of Canada’s top research universities, our quality undergraduate student experience and out-of- classroom experience are not fully captured,” says Chris Conway, Director, Institutional Research and Planning. “This just means we need to work hard to tell the other side of our story – that we’re a balanced academy, excelling in both research and the student experience.” '
The implication that Queen's has decided to take part this year because of a change in methodology is difficult to accept. THE has talked about revising their citations indicator but nothing definite has emerged. The real reason might be this:
'Although both global and domestic rankings struggle with standardizing data collection and interpretation, they provide one of the few tools available to prospective undergraduate students and their families for evaluating universities.
“With so many options, rankings help to reassure parents and students about their decision to attend a given university,” says Andrea MacIntyre, the university’s international admission manager. Queen’s position in rankings is one of the top three concerns among prospective undergraduate students, particularly in China and India, where the national education systems focus heavily on class standings from the early stages of education.'