Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Outbreak of Rankophilia

A plague is sweeping the Universities of the West, rankophilia or an irrational and obsessive concern with position and prospects in global rankings and a unwillingness to exercise normal academic caution and scepticism.

The latest victim is Newcastle University whose new head, Chris Day, wants to make his new employer one of the best in the world. Why does he want to do that?
"His ambition - to get the university into the Top 100 in the world - is not simply a matter of personal or even regional pride, however. With universities increasingly gaining income from foreign students who often base their choices of global rankings, improving Newcastle’s position in the league tables has economic consequences."
So Newcastle is turning its back on its previous vision of becoming a "civic university" and will try to match its global counterparts. It will do that by enhancing its research reputation.
'While not rowing back from Prof Brink’s mantra of “what are we good at, but what are we good for?”, Prof Day first week in the job saw him highlighting the need for Newcastle to concentrate on improving its reputation for academic excellence." '
It is sad that Day recognises that the core business of a university is not enough and that what really matters is proper marketing and shouting to rise up the tables.

Perhaps Newcastle will ascend into the magic 100, but the history of the THE rankings over the last few years is full of universities -- Alexandria, University of Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan University, University of Copenhagen, Royal Holloway, University of Cape Town, Middle East Technical University and others -- that have soared in the THE rankings for a while and then fallen, often because of nothing more than a twitch of a methodological finger.

Meanwhile Cambridge is yearning to regain its place in the QS top three and Yale is putting new emphasis on science and research with an eye on the global rankings.


Gavin Moodie said...

Why does Cambridge's new vice focus on QS, the poorest of all the prominent league tables - because it is easiest to game?

Anonymous said...

Is the link between rankings and international students necessarily that good? Best University for % international students in Ireland is NUI Galway, not TCD. Royal College of Surgeons is about 50% international, but this surely has more to do with offering medicine rather than a ranking around 200. Seems like there are many other ways to increase international students (curriculum, develop relations with countries, alumni positive about experience etc) that have just as much if not more influence than rankings once you get over the 'has anyone heard of you' hurdle.