Going Global notebook

March 17, 2011

World rankings

Needed but not always wanted

World university rankings are "like vice-chancellors and in-laws: we may not always like them, but we know we need them". That was the argument made by Kevin Downing, senior coordinator for academic planning and quality assurance at the City University of Hong Kong. He said that with tuition fees rising around the world, it was right that students should be given the means to compare the merits of universities via rankings. At the same session, Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, argued that "students and parents need help" and that "responsible and transparent" rankings could play a part in this. However, Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, countered that the tables relied on "primitive data" and subjective weightings.

National strategies

Different country, different style

As university reforms continue around the world, Going Global speakers assessed different nations' contrasting strategies. Peter Zervakis, head of a project on higher education good practice at the German Rectors' Conference, said that for Germany, the Bologna Process had been "traumatic". However, it was needed to address high drop-out and failure rates on the country's now-defunct longer courses, which had reached 50 per cent for international students. Cheng Kai-ming, professor of education at the University of Hong Kong, said reforms - including the creation of a single high school examination and broader four-year courses - had been prompted by a changing society that no longer had "labour market pigeonholes". In a session on Latin America, Leandro Tessler, director of international relations at Unicamp, Brazil, noted that 57 per cent of the nation's higher education institutions were private for-profits that did not carry out research. The higher education participation rate was just 16 per cent among 18- to 24-year-olds, he added, and universities carry such social status that graduates who commit crimes can expect to be jailed in a better class of prison. In a session titled "Asian Institutions at the Crossroads", Christopher Brown, founding director of the international college at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, claimed that Asian universities "are changing the face of higher education". The payment of tuition fees mainly by students and parents in those countries represented "a step away from the notion that higher education is a public good", he argued. But Lily Kong, vice-president (university and global relations) at the National University of Singapore, said there were "multiple Asias" and questioned whether there was even a single Western model of the university. She rejected the idea of a single Confucian model in East Asia, since elements such as the "one-chance" college entrance exam did not apply universally across the region.

Student experience

'No excuse for poor service'

Universities in the US, UK and Australia were accused of "staggering negligence" in dealing with overseas students after research revealed low response rates to enquiries from potential students. A paper by Mike Elms, co-founder of www.hotcourses.com, shows that in all three countries, the response rate to enquiries is just over 50 per cent. Paul Greatrix, registrar at the University of Nottingham, said there was "no excuse for that kind of poor-quality service". A delegate said it showed "staggering negligence...and disrespect for students".


There's life in the 'ghost city' yet

Qatar's flagship Education City development has been described as a "ghost city" with insufficient demand for places. The campus in Doha has attracted branches of a number of leading US universities as well as the UK's University College London. But during a discussion on the Middle East as a global education "hub", the logic of Qatar's initiative was questioned. Fatema Hashem, assistant projects director at the British Council in Bahrain, said she had heard that the area was "not an education city, but a ghost city", and asked if things had improved. Ahmad Hasnah, associate vice-president for higher education at the Qatar Foundation, said all courses had met their planned intakes. He added that the development was also intended to spark a research culture in the region.

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