Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ranking is just a game

Our most notable university, the National University of Singapore (NUS) was ranked No. 30 in the Times Higher Education-Quacquarelli Symonds ranking 2008 while Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was ranked No. 77.

Singapore Management University (SMU) did not make it to the top 200, we can only know its ranking at a later date as the QS World University ranking will release the rankings of universities outside the top 200 on next Monday 13 Oct 08.

UniSIM (Singapore Institude of Management University), Singapore’s fourth university, and the only private university to date, was also not in the top 200.

Professor Shih Choon Fong, NUS’ outgoing President, in his Commencement Speech in year 2005 has unveiled his vision for NUS to clinch a berth in the ‘Top 10 Universities’ club in the near future. With the top 10 spots of the university ranking, seeming perennially dominated by the coterie of premium US and UK universities, for NUS to break into the top 10 spots, the task is a real challenge. But I believe this task could be more easily achieved as compared to putting our Lions (our national soccer team) into the top 32 teams of the World Cup!

NUS’ ranking has fallen from 19th in year 2006 to 33rd in year 2007, such a drastic fall was, in the view of NUS, caused by the change in ranking methodologies. With the ‘stabilization’ of the ranking methodologies used, NUS has improved marginally in ranking this year.

However, one must note that there is not one but a couple of rankings of world universities made by various institutions. For example, in the academic ranking of world universities (ARWU) report released by Centre for World-Class Universities, Shanghai Jiao Tong two month ago, NUS is ‘relegated’ to the league of the top 101-150 universities, while for NTU, its ranking in the report is in the league of the top 303 to 401 universities.

Comparing NUS’ ranking on the QS’ list with the ARWU’s list, the difference in its global ranking is even more hefty. Such a difference boils down to the different ranking methodologies adopted by the various institutions and clearly attest to the fact that ranking is ‘just a game’.

To be ranked higher up the QS list, NUS could improve on the areas the ranking authority deemed less excellent, but come next year, who knows, the methodologies applied in ranking by QS may be changed against NUS so much so that the ‘top 10’ challenge may become a pipedream ultimately.

Methodologies apart, the weightage that the ranking institutions accord to different categories that collectively determine a university’s rank can also be subjective and may even be biased in the eyes of the lower-ranking universities.

Hence, ranking is just a game. I am heartened our Ministry of Education has scrapped the school ranking for schools introduced in year 1992 and instead replaced it with a more holistic and comprehensive assessment of the achievements of primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges through the implementation of the ‘MOE Masterplan of Awards for Schools’. For the recipients of this year MOE school awards, please click here.

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