University Rating and Ranking: Acceptance or rejection?(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)

Article excerpt

Byline: Mona Dumlao-Valisno

(Part II)

Measuring excellence

HOW do we measure academic excellence? What are the values that govern measuring achievement? Most of the surveys conducted on rating and ranking universities revolved around the conception of academic excellence with these (2) two basic functional approaches - resources and reputation.

The resources that normally make the university excellent are measured both in physical and in human resources. Physical resources may be evaluated based on the presence of complete and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, sufficient and uptodate library holdings and the size of the library. It can also be evaluated in terms of the size and flexibility of the university's operating budget. Meanwhile, human resources may be evaluated based on student-faculty ratio, number of faculty with PhDs and the number of faculty rendering full-time services. Human resources may also be evaluated based on the quality of students entering the university or college indicated by their scores on college entrance tests and their high school grades.

The reputational approach is based on academic reputation as rated by respondents in surveys. Surveys on academic reputation are largely influenced by the presence of faculty in the university or college with high educational achievement and are widely known in the community. Furthermore, the reputational approach is also influenced by the percentage of graduates/alumni who become successful and widely known in the community.

* Differences between the ranked positions may be statistically insignificant, and simple cardinal ordering will exaggerate these differences. For instance, just a fraction of a percentage point may separate a 4th ranked university from a university ranked 8th. Even the statistical distinction between an institution ranked 7th and one ranked 27th may be small, and yet students and parents may believe that there are large differences between these institutions.

* Lists of "best" schools are worthless unless the criteria of valuation are non-arbitrary, specific and discriminative. An institutional ranking that groups all departments together is meaningless unless it is based upon a ranking of equal or at least similar departments across universities under scrutiny; it must also apply a sensible system of weights to control for differences with respect to the inter-institutional importance of the various departments.

* The existence of a ranking system may encourage universities to boost their scores by providing misleading, exaggerated, or downright incorrect information to the rating services, especially if rankings have an impact on funding or policy decisions. In an international context, these and other problems are severely aggravated. Firstly: who should check or independently verify the data in an international context?

* Given the cultural, academic, political and conceptual differences that exist between educational systems, even in Europe, it is virtually impossible to devise an international university ranking that reflects quality differences between various institutions in a sufficiently accurate way.

* Rankings are not very helpful for students trying to make an informed decision. Rather, students and parents ought to investigate universities carefully in terms of their own needs and goals. The criteria of the ranking authorities may not be relevant to their needs and aspirations.

Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that the impact of ranking is not as pronounced as is commonly believed. Only a relatively small proportion of potential college students have based their choice on the results of university rankings. Partly, this means that for financially well-off universities operating on an international market participation in institutional rankings may be a sensible marketing strategy if the ranking criteria are in their favor but from the point of view of rational decision-making on the part of the student customers, detailed and accurate information are much more valuable than rankings. …