Education: Bigger than rankings
At the University of the West Indies, we have done an assessment of the criteria used by the five major rankings agencies, and some self assessment, using these very criteria against the background of our own strategic plan imperatives, objectives and key performance indicators (2007-12 Strategic Plan).
On the basis of this exercise, a distinction needs to be made between criteria which are used to measure” best in the world” and criteria which can be used to assess “best in the world to those whom particular universities have been designed or mandated to serve.”
Beyond this, there is also the issue of resources and resource availability as well as accessibility, and how these affect institutions in small societies, as compared with those in larger, better endowed societies.
Inevitably, the tension between these two above will lead to the question of how to effectively manage the criteria for assessment to recognize diversity, to reflect genuine realities and to achieve fairness in an imperfect world. The challenging question is how should objective criteria and standards established for world class performance by universities everywhere be combined with the peculiar circumstance and region specific customer, market and socio-political demands, to render a fairer overall assessment which takes objectivity as well as context into account.
While University rankings can be prudently used to benchmark the performance of an institution, it cannot be unduly weighted in influencing educational policy simply because education is bigger than rankings and has meaning and implications beyond the limits of rankings.