ASIA: A plea for university ratings, not rankings

World university rankings criteria are not reliable enough and universities are too diverse to make accurate comparisons, a conference of Asia Pacific Professional Leaders in Education (APPLE) heard in Singapore this month.

Thailand's former science and technology minister Yongyuth Yuthavong told the conference of Asian university heads and policy-makers, hosted by the rankings organisation QS, that "universities ought to be grouped according to their vastly different characteristics".

Ranking "suffers from wild fluctuations due to volatile expert opinions and other factors," Yongyuth said. "It's not a perfect art or quite reliable. A rank can change wildly from year to year - the indicators are not that sharp.

"Rating might be a more sensible alternative." Ratings would also rate subject areas rather than whole universities, as some universities are strong in some subjects and weak in others.

Yongyuth, who is now with the National Science and Technology Development Agency, compared a ratings system to those used by credit agencies and banks which, he pointed out, are rated for quality, rather than ranked. He believes this could be used to group together universities according to a grading system.

"If you are in a certain range of performance you are in one group. Ratings don't give so much importance to differences in just a couple of points. Universities of similar standing are clustered together. It is qualitative rather than quantitative," he told University World News.

Already the Thailand Research Fund, which provides funding to universities, has asked for applications from all universities to be rated in subject areas in chemistry, physics and microbiology, in a procedure similar to the UK's research assessment exercise.

The UK system was first used in 1986 for the distribution of government research money to academic disciplines using five quality profiles - world class, internationally excellent, recognised internationally, recognised nationally and unclassified.

The Thailand research fund also has five levels. "Universities are welcome to apply then we group them according to these ratings. This might be an alternative to rankings. We have more than 100 universities and around 50% of them apply so it does not cover all of them," Yongyuth said.

But he acknowledged that such a system works better in the sciences than in the social sciences. "For social sciences it is much more qualitative." Social science ratings have been used for the first time this year and, he said, they needed some adjustments.

Related links

ASIA: Development ratings vs status rankings
ASIA: Governments should ignore rankings: Quacquarelli
GLOBAL: Social science and rankings

Other articles from the QS-APPLE conference in Singapore

GLOBAL: Future top universities below 'rankings radar'
ASIA: Universities' rise beginning to eclipse US