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NEWSLETTERUniversity rankings: Criticised, controversial – and wrong?
Few higher education issues generate as much debate as the increasing number of systems used to rank the world’s universities. The topic is the basis of a special series of articles this week by some expert commentators, with the first pointing out that the most notable systems rely on faulty statistics.
The OECD last week released its annual Education at a Glance 2013 publication and our writers cover several of the key issues. We also complete the series of reports from the WorldViews conference.
In Commentary, Philip Altbach accuses UNESCO and the OECD of abandoning the field of international higher education at a time when there is a huge need for ongoing international debate. And in World Blog, Alex Bols discusses the benefits of true internationalisation.
Geoff Maslen – Acting Global Editor
NEWS: Our correspondents worldwide report
Following the much-touted “Abenomics” floated by the administration of Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revive the country’s stagnant economy, Tokyo last week unveiled “Abeducation” to promote the internationalisation of the country’s higher education.
The Russian government is considering investing up to RUB100 billion (US$3 billion) to establish a giant educational cluster in the city of Domodedovo, in the Moscow region. The cluster would be a Russian analogue of Cambridge and is expected to house the nation’s leading technical universities, particularly their academic buildings and sporting infrastructure.
India and the United States have announced eight new partnerships in fields including health, technology, energy and sustainable development, and training of human resources – amounting to around US$2 million – as part of the second round of the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.
SRI LANKADinesh De Alwis
The Sri Lankan government plans to set up 25 technical universities and university colleges across the island, to cater to students who fail to gain entry to state universities. The ground-breaking move will provide job-oriented courses and create alternative learning pathways up to degree level for thousands of students leaving formal education.
Some 200 university leaders, senior managers, researchers and policy-makers gathered at the University of Warsaw earlier this month for the sixth annual meeting of the European University Association’s Council for Doctoral Education
The various methods used to rank the world's universities have all attracted criticisms and generated ongoing controversies. The articles that follow consider some of the issues surrounding the creation of university league tables with the first, by Dr Kaycheng Soh, questioning their statistical validity. The next three discuss newcomer U-Multirank, while Simon Pratt of Thomson Reuters says whatever their faults, rankings will be around for a long time yet. And UNESCO has just published a new book on rankings.
Recent research into university ranking methodologies has uncovered methodological problems within the most well-known systems currently being produced. One key problem is the summation of unstandardised indicators for the total scores used in rankings and this weight discrepancy can misinform and hence mislead.
U-Multirank has ruffled feathers in the rankings nest but much of the criticism aimed at it could be levelled at its more established peers.
As competition between universities increases, the debate over world rankings is heating up. However, it is interesting to note how recent UK criticism of U-Multirank ignores similar issues relating to other rankings. Is the UK turning into a cartel that is extremely sensitive to anything that might undermine its market dominance?
EUROPEJohn Roman and Frank Ziegele
The UK Higher Education International Unit’s criticism of U-Multirank lacks validity and in some cases represents a misunderstanding of the facts.
University league tables are here to stay so it is important the information they are based on is as thoroughly analysed as possible. This can mean changes to the way subjects are assessed, in order to overcome potential bias.
UNESCO has released a new publication, Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and misuses, which debates the pros and cons of classifying universities. A UNESCO release says the book brings together “the people behind university rankings and their critics to debate the uses and misuses of existing rankings”.
OECD – Education at a Glance 2013
The annual report on the status of education in OECD countries was released last Tuesday. Featuring more than 100 charts, 200 tables, and more than 100,000 figures, Education at a Glance 2013 provides key information on the output of educational institutions, the impact of learning across countries, the financial and human resources invested in education, and access, participation and progression in education. The five articles in this edition cover some of the topics in the 440-page report, and will be followed next week by accounts on the higher education performance of a range of individual countries.
The employment gap between young people who have a high level of education and those who abandon their studies earlier has widened during the economic recession, according to the report Education at a Glance 2013 published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But while the value of education has risen during the crisis, investment in the sector is falling, says the report.
“Nowadays there are more people participating in tertiary education than ever before. Differences between generations in educational attainment and growth in tertiary and secondary attainment are reflected in the trends in attainment rates,” says the OECD Education at a Glance 2013 report.
Based on 2011 patterns of graduation, on average across OECD countries 39% of young people will graduate from tertiary-type A first-degree programmes, often called a bachelor degree, and 17% from tertiary-type A second-degree programmes, often called a masters, the Education at a Glance 2013 report states.
Foreign students have a marked impact on estimated graduation rates, according to the compilers of the Education at a Glance report. By definition, the students are considered first-time graduates, regardless of their previous education in other countries. So an international student who enters and graduates from a second-degree programme will be considered a first-time graduate in the country of destination.
Gender differences persist in educational attainment, employment rates and earnings. In OECD countries, younger women have higher attainment rates than younger men in upper secondary and tertiary education. But, despite a larger proportion of women than men having a tertiary education, women’s employment rates and wages are lower than those of similarly qualified men, the Education at a Glance 2013 report notes.
The “Worldviews 2013: Global trends in media and higher education” conference was held in Toronto in June, co-hosted by University World News. The following reports cover further issues arising from the conference.
Higher education hubs, particularly those in poorer developing countries in Africa that are set up to attract foreign institutions and international students, could have unforeseen economic and social impacts on surrounding areas, the Worldviews conference heard.
Universities must address risks to their integrity when embarking on overseas branch campuses and collaborations, and should involve their faculty throughout the planning, delegates at the Worldviews conference agreed.
INDIA-CHINARoopa Desai Trilokekar
Although China is steaming ahead on its internationalisation policy, could India benefit more in the long run due to the fact that there is free and open debate about policies there?
Research in Canada has revealed that although women make up a growing proportion of the academy, including in senior positions, men’s voices still outnumber women’s in the media by four to one. Women scholars are being trained to raise their public presence in a project that has wider implications for higher education and the media.
The proliferation of journalism programmes around the world came under scathing attack at the Worldviews conference for unscrupulously recruiting too many students for the limited jobs available, and for being ossified in their curricula.
The newly established University of Namibia School of Medicine has embarked on an ambitious programme of inviting the private sector to take part in the construction of more hostels to accommodate its growing student population.
UNITED STATESJennifer Howard, Chronicle of Higher Education
The annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses featured a plenary session on three big ideas for publishers to think about, namely, copyright, public intellectuals and new business models. But the biggest idea explored during the conference, which ended last Saturday, was a simple one: advocacy.
Truly international universities have international perspectives on everything they do, from the staff and students they recruit to the curriculum they teach and the research they undertake.
GLOBALPhilip G Altbach
UNESCO and the OECD have abdicated any interest in international higher education at a time when there is a huge need for ongoing international debate, discussion and regular data collection. What can be done?
The Canadian government has overhauled science communication policies in a bid to silence any evidence that might go against its economic agenda.
Plans to raise tuition fees in Armenia up to 30% could have devastating consequences for Armenian society, as it would severely limit students’ chances of gaining access to higher education.
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The Supreme Court did not dismantle the use of affirmative action in college admissions last week, but analysts say it did put the nation's colleges and universities on alert, writes Mary Beth Marklein for US Today.
Pakistan has witnessed an impressive 50% increase in the number of research publications in the past two years, from 3,939 to 6,200 in the higher education sector, reports The Nation.
New figures provide clear evidence that Wales’ best young brains are being lost to higher education institutions across the border. The figures also highlight the apparent gulf in stature that exists between Welsh universities and their English counterparts, writes Gareth Evans for WalesOnline.
It was only last year that a student of the National Law School of India University was gang r aped on the nearby Bengaluru University campus. While little or nothing has been done since to safeguard students, the state was horrified to learn of another student gang r aped last week in what was considered a safe university town, Manipal – home to thousands of foreign students, writes Raja Choudhury for the Deccan Chronicle.
Universities are relegating overseas students to "de facto ghettos", leaving one in five feeling "isolated" and alone, a survey has revealed, writes Lucy Sherriff for The Huffington Post UK.
Non-state and foreign university participation in fulfilling the higher education needs of students who are unable to enter state universities should be “highly appreciated”, said Higher Education Minister SB Dissanayake, addressing the international partnership conference of the University of Wolverhampton, writes Anushika Ranadewa for the Daily News.
Dozens of higher education institutions are at risk of closure in the next few years, university leaders have warned. Several leaders predicted in a survey that “as many as 20 to 30 current higher education institutions could become unviable if student demand continues to fall”, writes Rose Troup Buchanan for The Independent.
Brazil has initiated a programme to foster higher education in five Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa: Angola, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, and Săo Tomé and Principe, reports Open Equal Free.
The Scottish government has been accused of trying to interfere in the governance of universities, reports the Daily Record. The suggestion was made by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as MSPs began to vote on the final shape of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill.
The position of president of one of China's most prestigious universities – Zhejiang University – has been vacant for months, with alumni against the so-called assignment system of the position, reports Xinhua.
In a radical policy change, Australia's Tertiary Education Minister Craig Emerson last week released a new approach to quality control. It meets university demands for a lighter regulatory burden and could gut Labor's own creation, the Tertiary Education Quality Assurance Agency, writes Stephen Matchett for The Australian.
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