Have you ever thought why Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Oxford, and University of Cambridge are the top ranked universities? It is even more surprising to see that MIT, University of Cambridge, and University of Oxford are proudly announcing themselves as top ranked universities of the world. The question is why these universities are worried about their international ranking and reputation?
Ignorance is the curse; if we try to answer the aforementioned question, we may plan better for our future as a nation and easily distinguish between myths and realities about university rankings.
The myth is that the university rankings are redundant, bogus, and fraudulent but the reality is opposite and crystal clear. Let’s look at this from a layman’s perspective. The dream of a farmer comes true when her daughter gets admission in Harvard Medical School. It is like the day of Eid when a son of a poor villager tells his parents that he has got admission in the Law College at the University of Oxford. It comes to the media limelight when a blacksmith’s daughter receives a scholarship at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.
Progress in nations can be quantified on the scale of the quality of teaching provided in their universities, the strength of their intellectuals, regional growth, the impact of research on the regional economy, and the quality of research being conducted. To measure our progress, we have to adopt those same metrics which are internationally recognized, and acceptable. Thus, scientific thinking should prevail, and we should follow the world academic university rankings which quantify these metrics in a scientific manner
Whether it’s a farmer, well established businessman, landlord, or political figure, when it comes to the bright future of their children, each of them try to send the children to world top ranked universities. This doesn’t end here; then the alumni of these top ranked universities does not stop sharing on every occasion that they graduated from these universities. Policymakers, politicians, technocrats, judiciary, bureaucrats, generals: the majority are trained in these universities and countries run by the education and training provided by these top ranked universities. Whether you accept it or not, university ranking is playing its role and everyone is evidently relying implicitly on it when making a decision for the future education of their children. In fact, it is the university rankings that help to classify these universities in a scientific manner.
It is imperative for the success of a nation that the young generation should make their mind scientifically developed. They should harness scientific reasoning and inculcate and nurture critical thinking in every field of life. The same principle applies here. Instead of simply denying, we should think critically and try to question in a scientific manner why the whole world, and in particular, developed countries, follow the university ranking systems and consider it important in their policy making.
The purpose of higher education is to make a better society, generate knowledge,and conduct state-of-the-art scientific research; and all these goals are achieved through universities. In simple words, a university may claim that it is providing quality education and producing students who are capable of playing their part in society; that its faculty is conducting top-notch research which has an impact on society, and that it transfers knowledge to industry. But this claim can be counterfeit and the challenge is how uo validate such claims.
International ranking of universities carried by ranking bodies, such as The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Ranking, Shanghai Ranking, U-Multirank, and Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), helps us to quantify these factors in a scientific manner and judge these claims.
These ranking bodies consider different metrics and then issue the global ranking list. The universities will then sort, according to their performance in these metrics. Some of these metrics are, but are not limited to, teacher-student ratio, quality of teaching, quality of faculty, research output and its impact on the society, income generated by the university, proportion of international students and international staff, and international collaboration. Among many factors, the most important one is the number of Nobel laureates associated with any university.
Now looking at Pakistan, did any university in Pakistan, after Independence, produce any scientist, who received a Nobel Prize by conducting research indigenously in Pakistan? If we look at the Nobel laureates, from 1901 to 2020, 603 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 962 personalities– 114 to Physics, 112 to Chemistry, and 111 to Medicine. The USA, UK, Germany, and France are the countries which have the highest number of Nobel Prize winners. In contrast, the situation is devastating in Pakistan in terms of Nobel laureates.
Consider the Shanghai Ranking, 20 percent weightage is given if staff of an institution wins a Nobel Prize. So if a university does not have any Nobel Prize winner in its faculty, that university will get zero marks in this metric. Similarly, if an alumnus of a university wins a Nobel Prize, they give 10 percent weightage, otherwise, zero marks will be assigned. Now if we just consider the case of any Pakistani university, we can easily estimate the situation of Nobel Prize winners and Pakistan will get zero marks in this category. Simply speaking, Pakistani universities lose 30 percent marks as there is not a single Nobel laureate associated with any Pakistani university. Then how we can expect Pakistani universities can make their position in the world’s top 100 ranked universities without having a single Nobel laureate? Looking at the top ranked universities in each country and the number of Nobel laureates, we can deduce that the number of top ranked universities in a country is correlated with the number of Nobel laureates in that country.
Progress in nations can be quantified on the scale of the quality of teaching provided in their universities, the strength of their intellectuals, regional growth, the impact of research on the regional economy, and the quality of research being conducted. To measure our progress, we have to adopt those same metrics which are internationally recognized, and acceptable. Thus, scientific thinking should prevail, and we should follow the world academic university rankings which quantify these metrics in a scientific manner. Thus due importance should be given to international ranking bodies, as the whole world follows these ranking bodies for their policy and decision making in the higher education sector.
The writer teaches Computer Science at Munster Technological University (MTU), Ireland, and tweets @MRehmani
Source: Published in Pakistan Today