Tony Gurr

Yeah, it’s weekend

In Our Universities, Uncategorized on 10/03/2011 at 5:02 pm

Is it OK if I have a bit of a “rant n’ rave” – it is weekend. after all!

I read today (from BBC News Education Correspondent, Sean Coughlan) that the world’s “best” universities are now being ranked by “reputation”.

Guess which “usual suspects” got into the top 10 list?

  1. Harvard
  2. MIT
  3. Cambridge
  4. Berkeley
  5. Stanford
  6. Oxford
  7. Princeton
  8. Tokyo
  9. Kayseri (OK – but I had everyone at Bilkent and METU going there for a second – it was, of course, Yale)!
  10. Cal-Tech

Excuse me! But, wasn’t it Harvard that “gave” George W. Bush an MBA?

Surely, that single act alone should mean that they are no longer allowed to participate in these silly “let’s-all-vote-for-ourselves” competitions.

Sean, who I have the greatest respect for BTW, tells us that the Times Higher Ed magazine has now listed the 200 top universities based on how they are “regarded” by a panel of international academics.

OK – no surprises there. But, Sean also goes on to tell us that this newer form of the “global league rankings” is different.

Different because it “measures” (don’t you just love the English language and the way we can use words that, in fact, do not mean what they mean) how universities are “regarded”, rather (and this is the killer) than “how they actually performed”.

Sean, I love you to bits (really) – but you really need to be helping us to ask some questions:

1. What specific criteria are used to create these rankings?

2. What actual performance indicators form the basis of all these league tables?

3. How do these rankings and league tables add value to the learning of individual students?

I would love to see just one of the Top 10 give me any data on how much “learning” they have created in their undergraduates and post-graduates even – as evidence of how they “performed”.

But, that’s for another conversation!

Now, perhaps this panel of “international experts” just missed “the meeting” or did not get the “memo” (they were all probably busy “writing” to get their citation index up) – but wouldn’t a vote like this just mean more, if it was students (or even, parents) that did the “voting”?

It’s true – “reputation” is also a highly valued prize and marketing tool for universities around the world. Higher education is a “status industry” – and how better to accrue more of it that asking all your friends to say how wonderful you are!

Prestige” is another of these words – as is “eminence”, “renown”, and “status”.

But as the old saying goes “we cannot eat prestige” – nor should we “serve” it to students and their parents.

It will not feed them – and it will not “learn” them.

The problems facing LSE (because of their “links” with Libya) show us just how “fragile” and perhaps “unreal” (well, that’s what the LSE PR, or “damage control”, team are saying) reputation really is. There are many other “educational service” companies looking into the the same “black hole” these days – and, we should perhaps be asking about the “ethics” of such organisations, too.

Such terms are all part of the “great educational lie” that Gilbert describes.

The lie goes like this (sorry Ian, I added a bit) – “do well at school, get to a top university, and you’ll get a good job”.

There are a lot of Harvard graduates who are having more and more of a tough time finding good jobs these days – especially these days. It seems they have just not “learned” enough – to cope in life-after-Harvard.

The problem is that it is not good enough for universities to “cream off” the best-of-the-best (and take credit for the “learning” that takes place – often, in spite of the “teaching” that many students are forced to put up with) – it is the “added-value” that these universities create in their students that makes them employable, that makes them productive in civil society, that helps them grow as human beings.

As I said, perhaps our panel of international experts might consider asking students about the added-value that a university education is giving them – and ask them to offer examples of the kind of evidence that “proves” this.

Wait a minute! There is such a system – but I do not see many of the Top 10 signing up for these surveys! Go on, guys – I dare you

Now, that would be a great “marketing tool” – and an even better “learning tool” for other universities – and parents!

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