Monday, September 13, 2010

University Rankings are Dinosaur Racing

I don't care about rankings, and neither should you. University Rankings are a bit like Miss World. Every year, people who purport in public not to take an interest in such nonsense surreptitiously tune in to how well they match up to the templates of Academic Beauty: Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. Most find that, unlike Miss World, the well balanced rack of Nobel prize winning assets required to reach the top is not so easy to procure.

Academics, of course understand clearly the dangers of such simplistic rankings. But if giving a simple score measuring how closely a thing matches an unattainable ideal is folly, why do we do exactly that each year, giving 1st class honours to those whose minds, we find, most resemble our own. As you sow, so shall ye reap.

Some of the metrics that go into the rankings are worth considering. Just like Miss World might inspire one to maintain a healthy BMI, behind the University rankings there are some well considered metrics and KPI's that any University leader should be on top of.  But if University rankings were like Miss World, the ideal of beauty would be Eleanor of Aquitaine, or perhaps a muse of Rubens. The 'winners' are those who models have been successful in the past - often the quite distant past. It's a backward looking indicator, and those chasing purely rankings are chasing yesterdays dreams and ideal. It's like dinosaur racing.

Ignore the rankings. Think about what your institution needs to look like when you retire, or when you children or grandchildren attend. If you try to be like everyone else, you won't stand out from the pack in the global market. Find a different vision, chase a different dream. If some measure or KPI helps you do that, create your own ranking scheme, with metrics that are important for your own vision. Then strive to be the world number one at that. Take Coco Chanel's advice:
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

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