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University Ranking Continued


 

University Ranking Continued

by Kenneth Lyen

The Times Higher Education Supplement has published its 2004 ranking for groups of subjects. The National University of Singapore has done remarkably well in these rankings: 9th in Engineering and IT, beating Tokyo, Oxford, and Harvard Universities; 10th in social science, beating Princeton, Melbourne, Cornell and Columbia Universities; and 17th in Arts and Humanities, beating the London School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Pennsylvania.

The National University of Singapore is relatively young (celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), and has not been generally regarded as an intellectual powerhouse. Thus many of us, including academics in Singapore, raised their eyebrows when they saw the Times Higher Educational Supplement rankings.

RANK

ENGINEERING & IT

SOCIAL SCIENCE

ARTS & HUMANITIES

1.

U California, Berkeley

Harvard University

Harvard University

2.

Massachusetts Inst Technology

London Sch of Economics

Oxford University

3.

Stanford University

U California, Berkeley

U California, Berkeley

4.

Indian Inst Technology

Oxford University

Yale University

5.

Imperial College, London

Chicago University

Cambridge University

6.

California Inst Technology

Stanford University

Princeton University

7.

Tokyo University

Yale University

Beijing University

8.

Cambridge University

Cambridge University

Columbia University

9.

National U Singapore

Massachusetts Inst Tech

Tokyo University

10.

Beijing University

National U Singapore

London Sch of Economics

11.

Tokyo Inst Technology

Princeton University

U of Sorbonne, Paris

12.

Oxford University

Melbourne University

Massachusetts Inst Tech

13.

Harvard University

Cornell University

Michigan University

14.

Carnegie Mellon University

Columbia University

University Texas, Austin

15.

Tsing Hua University, China

Tokyo University

Kyoto University

16.

ETH, Zurich

Australian Natl Univ

Oslo University

17.

Georgia Inst Technology

University Pennsylvania

National U Singapore

18.

Monash University

U California, LA

London Sch Oriental AS

19.

Ecole Polytechnique, France

Beijing University

University Pennsylvania

20.

Hong Kong U Sci & Tech

Erasmus U, Rotterdam

Edinburgh University

Are the rankings wrong? Or has the National University Singapore risen to become one of the top world-class universities in the world?

First, we must ask whether the criteria for ranking are valid, and if so, whether or not they are accurate? Unfortunately the answers to both questions must be a qualified "no". The Times Higher Education Supplement ranking relies heavily on peer evaluation. Academics from each university assess the quality of their peers in other universities. Unfortunately this is very subjective, and prone to considerable error. The assessment of one’s contemporaries is often quite unreliable, as history as borne out time and again.

However, this fact allows a university to raise its ranking by attracting well-known academics and researchers. Offering attractive packages of high salaries, high status, new laboratory facilities, and subsidized housing, a university can lure talented people, especially those who have already become famous through their researches, and are preparing for a change in lifestyle, or thinking of semi-retirement.

University authorities seem to pay considerable attention to such rankings. Why? Because it can influence student applications to that university. For example, it is thought that applications to the National University of Singapore may have increased because of its high ranking. Perhaps this may have been a factor in students’ decisions whether to remain in Singapore or to study overseas. Other factors include the economic downturn in Asia, and the United States anti-terrorist sentiments resulting in their refusing student visas to many overseas applicants.

When recruiting researchers and teachers to Singapore, one of the selling points to potential recruits is the university’s relatively high international standing. Success breeds success.

I am very skeptical of ranking of any sort because they are not based on particularly sound foundations. However, I realize that published ranking can be a university marketing executive’s dream, especially when universities are now competing keenly for the best students. In this regard, I think the National University of Singapore is particularly lucky in being ranked so high. It should capitalize on this stroke of good fortune.

14 February 2005