University Ranking – Should we really dare it?

A recent mail (24/05/2011 12:45) had been circulated by the President of UCC – showing the lack of dealing with current challenges. And to be clear: I do not consider this as personal failure of anybody involved in the following, and only to a limited extent as personal merit in other instances.

Quickly from the mail – it states:

I wrote to you on 11th April 2011, asking you to participate in the QS academic peer review 2011 and I write again to remind you to please participate in this exercise. QS has informed UCC that the closing date for participating in the academic peer review has been extended to 14th June 2011.

As you know, there are a number of university ‘league tables’ which influence the perception and standing of universities worldwide. In 2010 over 20 million people viewed the QS University World Ranking with more than 600 newspapers and other media publishing the results. A critical part of the methodology employed by the QS World University Ranking is to undertake an academic peer assessment through a process of consultation with the global academic community. This involves the completion of an electronic questionnaire and accounts for 40% of the overall assessment. In 2009, 9,300 academics completed the questionnaire and in 2010 15,000 academics completed the questionnaire. Maximising participation in the QS academic peer review represents a significant opportunity for UCC to improve its world university ranking position in this particular ranking scheme

In an attempt to raise UCC’s the profile, I am requesting that all UCC academics contact at least three non-UCC academics and ask them to complete the questionnaire, which can be accessed at the following link – ….

It is important that the academics you contact understand the importance of UCC improving its University world ranking and that they complete the questionnaire by 14th June 2011.

To assist you in undertaking this task I have included at the end of this email a draft text for emailing to academic colleagues.

Thank you for your assistance,

As the mail had not been marked as confidential I have the clandestine hope that I will not be sacked for quoting it. And having written before

> I do not consider this as personal failure of anybody involved

is not meant as friendly gesture of excuse. I think we are facing a serious structural problem here.

Should we really look for such peer-review – and can we honestly do so?

Just two small incidences may show why I am sceptical – again, no personal failures, no personal merits.

Case one: If a mail is sent (from a colleague in the department) to a responsible person in the same department, making a serious proposal which is linked to discussions on the development of a new course and is not answered this may be simply considered as bold, forgetfulness or work-overload. However, it may also be seen in another way: The proposal did not fit in the overall business strategy (not a personal orientation but one of the National University of Ireland, HETAC, OECD etc.pp.), thus it is reason enough to ignore it. – It may be interesting to mention on this occasion that an earlier mail, fitting into such business strategy, had been answered by a mail sent (by the same ‘responsible person’) by mail which had been sent on a Saturday (or Sunday – can’t trace it now).

Case two: Working in different institutions, i.e. also teaching at different universities (something celebrated as UCC’s and the schools assets during the last review: international reputation) requires some special logistics, for instance organising marking exam papers not in the comfort of the home institution office but somewhere abroad. This is a somewhat common procedure. One university where I am teaching has a well staffed administration that makes sure that (where applicable) exam papers are scanned at the end of the exam day and sent for correction – and ‘well staffed’ means as well that people are not stressed out though well organised and hard working. UCC is entirely understaffed – and lecturers support each other [better to say here: support me, and the school’s reputation] with scanning and sending documents.

Is this what the President wants to be evaluated?

Courses – new and old – should not be set up as matter of business strategies but as matter of a meaningful academic work, as matter of contributing to new teaching, teaching new matters and systematically fostering relevant research.

And academic work needs bureaucracy, management – but one that has sufficiently scope to support the development of the academic work and reputation.

If anything should be ranked it is the role an academic institution fulfils in the democratic development of society of which it should be part rather than striving for positions in ranking lists of which in the meantime even the European Commission knows, stating already in a 2008-Press release (Reference: IP/08/1942 – Date: 11/12/2008) the need for

a new multi-dimensional university ranking system with global outreach

knowing that the currently still used systems are extremely limited in their meaning (to say the least).

Well, Mr President, alluding to one of our sayings*

You surely point out ‘the right way from here’ – but you should consider if we really want to go there.’


* after explaining the way, completing by saying ‘but I would not start from here’


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