Commentary: The age-old question about university rankings

Commentary: The age-old question about university rankings

Instead of agonising over how universities are doing in the rankings, it is far more important to understand what these mean to potential hirers, businesses and the universities themselves, argues Kerry Consulting’s Pan Zaixian.

File photos of Nanyang Technology University and National University of Singapore. 

SINGAPORE: Recent news reports about Asia-Pacific university rankings have gotten people riled up.

While many Singaporeans use the rankings to pit the National University of Singapore (NUS) against Nanyang Technological University (NTU), others lament the endless stream of university rankings.

“Wasn’t there one released just a few weeks ago? Is this one or that one more credible?” asked some readers.

Indeed, it can be confusing what we should pay attention to, when the rank placements of listed universities change frequently depending on what factors each ranking exercise weighs as more important, whether these are the volume of research, the teaching standards or the employability of graduates.

But the fact that we still keep a look-out for these rankings suggest that they do matter.

THEY MATTER TO PEOPLE AND UNIVERSITIES

University rankings matter for those in the professional services and technical professions that demand mastery over their domains and the people they serve.

Part of this is largely psychological, for a highly-ranked school is a proxy for professional excellence, and people generally prefer to collaborate with the best to assure themselves of the highest chance for success.

When you board a driverless car, does the fact that the car was designed by teams of engineers schooled at the highest-ranked university not give you a greater assurance of safety? And when you need a lawyer, isn’t it that much more encouraging when you hear that your lawyer comes from the top university in the land?

A doctor anaesthetises a patient before the start of surgery. (Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib)

We also forget that education is an industry in itself. The higher a