Friday, May 30, 2008

From Dublin to Shanghai?

Following on from Iain's last post (sort of), Newman might be rather surprised these days to see the extent to which national and international league tables influence institutional behaviour. A recent survey by the Higher Education Funding Council in England has suggested that league tables are making a significant impact on decision-making within universities. This is in spite of a general recognition that these tables are often flawed or are even impossible to aspire to for many institutions: the Shanghai Jiao Tong league table, for instance, focuses on Nobel prizewinners (amongst staff and alumni) and citation indexes (mainly in the sciences).

The Shanghai league table is not yet hugely influential and is mainly intended to set benchmarks for Chinese universities, but there are probably not many universities in the world that would be displeased to see themselves on the list. I am always fairly disappointed to hear that yet another university has decided to aspire to 'world-class excellence' or a 'top 100' listing. These achievements will always be the preserve of the few rather than the many. Can we not find more creative ways of valuing what universities can be?

Alison Phipps will be approaching the topic of creativity in her plenary on Friday at the Symposium. She will be drawing on 'alternative metaphors, parables and imagery' in order to consider 'the kinds of futures which may be worth creating'. It seems worth pausing for a moment to consider alternative futures for universities, which I hope we will be doing at the Symposium, rather than all rushing towards the same, narrow sets of uninspiring goals.


Iain said...

I think many institutions are beginning to look to identifying a niche identity that provides a bit more 'market differentiation'. Referring back to your Toledo article earlier, that is perhaps a somewhat extreme example in which working with the academic staff wasnt seen as necessary to redesign and repurpose the institution.

Iain said...

I note that there was an article in the Sunday Times, Ireland yesterday by John O'Keefe of Dublin Business School (Kaplan Inc.) about Irish universities' low rankings in many of the international league tables. His solution seemed to be advocating less institutional autonomy and a lot more 'quality assurance' measures built on the UK model of QAA/TQA/RAE ! Yes, the QAA is I'm sure the reason that Oxford and Cambridge rank so highly internationally, and its astonishing that Harvard are still at the top without such mechanisms ! ;-)