The university score pits universities against each other, not the world
NOTICE: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2021 was released in May.
This international ranking scale compares more than 1,500 universities in 93 countries on the basis of 13 performance indices in the areas of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international perspectives.
While the University of Oxford topped the Times ranking for the fifth year in a row, US universities took eight places in the top 10.
When competing to attract valuable international students, a university builds on its reputation, and the Times rankings provide a must-see comparison for those who want to know where to study to get the best value for money.
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Reputation is also important in attracting good staff and external funding.
Of course, one-year ranking is not the ultimate solution, and there are a few other ranking systems that take slightly different criteria into account and produce somewhat different results.
Nonetheless, the same university loot appears in each top 50, and within each country the order does not tend to change much from year to year.
In New Zealand, the University of Auckland wins the Kiwi Cup every year, followed by Otago and most often
Canterbury. After that, it’s the musical chairs according to the ranking system you are looking at.
What has changed over the past 20 years is how New Zealand universities compare overall to those in other countries. Overall, with the exception of Auckland, our universities have dropped all lists.
There are probably two main reasons for this. First, thanks to the investments, the Chinese have created many impressive institutions and developed academic capacities by training their staff abroad. This has pushed many universities, including our own, into the international hierarchy.
The other reason is that in real terms our government funding levels have declined.
With less money, you invest less in research and the quality of teaching. So it becomes a self-fulfilling spiral; As your ranking goes down, it becomes more and more difficult to attract quality staff and good doctoral students, the latter being the “engine room” of your research activity, a key performance indicator.
When international student incomes decline, our universities begin to compete with each other, spending a lot on advertising in the hope that local students will pay their fees. It’s a bit as if the rats ate each other when there was no food left.
It has become another example – as with so many things in distant New Zealand – of focusing on competing within rather than working together to improve our lot in the big world. The government is even encouraging this inward-looking attitude with its performance-based research fund.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON / STUFF
Francesca Howard is working on a graduate certificate in athletic training. She is 90 years old.
Established 20 years ago, much of the money normally provided to universities to support teaching activity was set aside and then returned based on the amount and quality of research an institution was doing . Every six years, each academic submits a portfolio of research funds which is evaluated by a “panel” created by a specially constructed arm of the Higher Education Commission.
The jury gives academics an A, B, C or “inactive” (read “failed”) grade according to their portfolio. The universities then receive money based on those grades. An A gets the most, maybe $ 50,000 a year for the next six years. AB could be $ 25,000 and a C $ 10,000.
It varies somewhat across disciplines, with academics in medicine and public health being given more of the same grade than academics in a discipline such as history. The financial incentive to do well is therefore significant – about $ 2 billion is distributed every six years.
The university administration is investing huge human and financial resources (around $ 40 million) in research funds in hopes of maximizing their score and getting the biggest slice of the $ 2 billion pie. possible.
In addition to what the universities invest, there is the compliance and reporting fee of approximately $ 3.5 million for the commission.
The fact that each academic receives a personal score based on the peer review of their portfolio of research funds is crippling, especially when university management can use it to justify changes in salary or job description. post. Some claim that the research fund has caused a significant degradation of the working environment.
As a result, academics between and even within New Zealand institutions are pitting themselves against each other, often reluctant to share information that could improve the “scores” of others to the detriment of their own. Instead of pursuing research for the betterment of humanity, the research fund encourages an academic rat race based on career preservation.
Meanwhile, university strategists “play” to improve their research fund score rather than improving the quality and quantity of research performed by their staff.
Imagine if that $ 43.5 million of public money was spent to improve the performance of our universities and the well-being of their staff rather than to promote internal competition. Such an investment could help stem the fall of New Zealand universities in international rankings and benefit the country.
Instead, as our universities compete to position themselves in the commission version of the Kiwi Cup, they continue to fall behind internationally, and this is where the real race for international students, for reputation, takes place. and therefore to profitability.
Steve Stannard is a former academic and small business owner who lives in Manawatū.