Sunday, May 24, 2009

University ranking - another example of management by metrics

While we are on the topic of 'management by metrics', Prof Lily Kong of the NUS wrote a rather defensive letter to the Straits Times about the NUS apparent fall in ranking during the recent publication of the Quacquarelli survey.

Prof Kong's response says a lot but actually says nothing much that we don't already know. ..that NUS looks very good on paper, when the right parameters are used. This is because NUS has a strategic approach based on certain metrics that will do well in ranking exercises. The fact that when the ranking metrics are altered, ranking falls so precipitously suggests a lack real 'health' in the system. I have posted recently on the management by metrics approach that many organizations take nowadays, and this is really what is happening here. So little of what Prof Kong says reflects on the NUS real commitment to teaching and training. Recruitment of new staff is fundamentally based on the research accomplishments rather than on a passion for students and teaching.

For professional schools such as engineering and medicine, this will result in sub-quality practitioners and professionals produced by the schools.

My suggestion to NUS....and NTU as well....get away from these artificial metrics and go back to basics about your strategic directions as a university. By all means recruit people who are good academics but please make sure they are also good teachers, and are people who have a heart for students.


Anonymous said...

I see it as a self perpetuating cycle. Local unis want to attract the best students. Too bad many of these students look too much into school rankings and brand-hype. I myself have received emails from deans trying to persuade us to clarify with potential students why our school rankings may be below that of other schools.

Anonymous said...

Well, local university trying to game the system knowing the variable at play. But once, the variables is unknown, suddenly they do not know what to do ?

"It is the changes. What to do, it happens"

gigamole said...

Sadly, it is a self perpetuating cycle. Unis hyped up these numbers, and students buy into it. Tragically senior management seem to buy into their own self deception by over-emphasizing these metrics, mainly because their own KPIs are linked to how well they perform in meeting these metrics.

That's really why the giraffe got the ridiculously long neck, isn't it?

It always struck me as curious why teaching was so much better and effective in the past when staff-student ratios were relatively pathetic compared to current levels, and the universities were so poorly resourced. In fact I must confess to being somewhat envious of our 'poorer cousins' in the region when I visit them, that they are able to pursue their teaching mission in a much more wholesome fashion.

Now, that the universities are so well endowed, and the staff-student ratios are being pushed higher and higher, we seem all to be starving in the midst of plenty.

Why? I think because we are indulging ourselves too much in making that ridiculous neck longer and longer.