2013年1月8日 星期二


Ratings at a Price for Smaller Universities

For a certain kind of European, Asian or Latin American institution, the release of the world university rankings each autumn is an exercise in humiliation. Though often long established, and with good local reputations, these schools lack the endowments, research facilities and sheer size needed to compete with U.S. and British powerhouses like Harvard, M.I.T., Cambridge and Stanford.
So when Quacquarelli Symonds, the London-based company behind the QS World University Rankings, announced “a new initiative that gives universities the opportunity to highlight their strength” by paying a fee for the chance to be rated on a scale of one to five stars, the business case was obvious. But so, say critics, was the potential for conflicts of interest. The fees were announced in 2010, though the initiative was not introduced fully until this year.
The University of Limerick in Ireland did not make two other major international rankings — Times Higher Education’s top 400 or Shanghai Jiaotong University’s top 500 — though it was listed as one of T.H.E.’s top 100 new universities.
Yet after paying a one-time audit fee of $9,850 and an annual license fee of $6,850, the University of Limerick is now able to boast that it has been awarded “5-star ratings across the areas of infrastructure, teaching, engagement and internationalization,” according to QS. Its overall ranking was four stars.
University College Cork, which came in 190th in the QS rankings, received an overall rating of five stars, placing it among an international elite that, according to QS, offers students “cutting edge facilities and internationally renowned research and teaching faculty.” In comparison, it was placed in the 301-400 band in the Shanghai Jiaotong rankings and in the 301-350 band in the T.H.E. rankings.
For both Irish universities, the QS exercise paid off handsomely. An official at University College Cork told The Irish Examiner newspaper that if the QS stars “result in attracting a single additional, full-time international student to study at U.C.C. then the costs of participation are covered.”
“The question is: Are you buying stars?” Ellen Hazelkorn, director of research at the Dublin Institute of Technology and the author of “Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education,” said by telephone. “They can say to institutions further down in the rankings, ‘You might be able to get yourself a four- or five-star rating,’ which would look a lot better on their Web site.”
Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Education at Boston College, has long been a critic of rankings. “What they measure is a very narrow slice of what education is about,” he said by telephone.
He has written articles objecting to the use of surveys based on reputation, which he says are “of dubious validity,” and which make up half of the QS ranking scores. But he described the star ratings as particularly problematic.
“QS use rankings to sell their other products,” he said. These products include a World M.B.A. tour and a service providing strategic advice to business schools, universities and employers.

“By asking universities to respond to surveys for rankings and then asking them to pay for a star rating — I’m not accusing them of pay-for-play. I don’t have any evidence that is happening. But the appearance of conflict is there,” Dr. Altbach said.

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit, which oversees both the ratings and the rankings, said that there was no favoritism in QS’s system. “Just because accreditation agencies charge the universities, that doesn’t mean they are biased,” he said.
“We don’t do anything else but higher education,” Mr. Sowter said. “So any evidence that anything untoward was going on would be disastrous to our business.”
He said that fees did not have any influence on the ratings awarded. “If people were buying stars we wouldn’t have so many zero-, one- and two-star institutions that have been through the process,” he said. Of the 106 schools that have been rated so far, more than half have been awarded two stars or fewer, he said.
“In a world where Harvard is five stars, why wouldn’t you want to be seen as a three-star school?” he added. “Plenty of people are happy to stay in three-star hotels.”
Harvard, Cambridge and a handful of other elite universities are awarded five-star ratings without having to pay fees or furnish data, according to QS, which said that those schools were included to help calibrate the ratings.
In the rough-and-tumble world of academic reputations, the QS rankings have long been among the more influential. They started in 2004, a year after officials at Shanghai Jiaotong University published the first global university league table, and 21 years after the magazine U.S. News and World Report published its first guide to “America’s Best Colleges.” Today the QS list of the “top 700 universities” in the world is read by millions of prospective students, parents, academics and university administrators. Although the two groups are now rivals, until 2009 QS and the Times Higher Education magazine put out a joint ranking.
Both the British newspaper The Guardian and the U.S. News Web site are media partners for the QS global rankings. QS’s influence can also be felt at the highest levels of policy. Experts say that some governments will not fund students who wish to study overseas at universities not on the list — sometimes those not in the top 100.
In an attempt to work their way up the ladder, other countries have engaged in programs of consolidation, forcing smaller schools to group together in an effort to emulate the large U.S. and British research universities that repeatedly dominate the top tier. Some universities rely on rankings to determine whether potential collaborators on research projects or student exchange programs are worthy partners.
Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick in Britain, said that those who made decisions on the basis of rankings were deceiving themselves. “Rankings are all backward looking. So they are swallowing outdated medicine,” he said by telephone. “But as an academic I view the QS as the least reliable — partly because they are the most commercial and partly because they rely more heavily on survey data than the others.”
Simon Marginson, from the University of Melbourne’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, wrote in September in University World News, an online journal, that QS’s methodology “is not sufficiently robust to provide data valid as social science.” In an e-mail, Dr. Marginson charged that QS “have twice threatened legal action to intimidate news outlets” that have carried his criticisms of the company.
Mr. Sowter denied that the dispute had reached that stage. “We had a little bit of an altercation,” he said, regarding an article by Dr. Marginson in the newspaper The Australian. “The paper gave us a chance to see it beforehand and there were some unfounded allegations, which we disputed and were removed. There was no threat — just a first shot across the bows.”
“The academy likes to focus on the fact that we are a commercial enterprise,” Mr. Sowter said. He added that T.H.E. was published by a media company and that Shanghai Jiaotong included itself in its own rankings.
Dr. Hazelkorn said that the controversy over ratings might ultimately be a distraction.
“You have to ask yourself, Why are all the institutions so caught up in this?” she said. “For a country like Ireland, where education and establishing an international presence are hugely important to economic recovery, not being ranked makes you invisible.”



倫敦——每年秋天發佈的世界大學排名讓一些歐洲、亞洲和拉美學府顏面盡失。雖然這些學府 歷史悠久,在當地擁有良好的口碑,但由於缺乏捐贈、研究設施和絕對規模,這些學校難以與美國和英國的知名學府競爭,例如哈佛(Harvard)、麻省理工 學院(M.I.T.)、劍橋(Cambridge)和斯坦福(Stanford)。
因此,一項商業味十足的計劃面世了。QS世界大學排名(QS World University Rankings)評定公司、位於倫敦的Quacquarelli Symonds宣布,“一項新的計劃將使學校有機會強調其優勢”,即學校通過付費的方式來獲取1-5星的評級機會。但是,評論家們說,這也可能會帶來利益 衝突。雖然收費標準公佈於2010年,但該計劃直到2012年才得以完全實施。
雖然愛爾蘭利 默里克大學(University of Limerick)進入了《泰晤士高等教育》雜誌(Times Higher Education)新建大學100強名單之列,但它卻無緣其他兩項主要的國際排名——《泰晤士高等教育》世界400強大學和上海交大的世界500強大 學。
愛爾蘭國立考克大學(University College Cork)在QS大學排名中排190位,收到了5星的總體評級,躋身於國際知名大學之列。用QS的話來說就是,該校能為學生提供“尖端設施和國際知名的研 究教學師資。”作為對比,該校在上海交大的榜單中處於301-400名的區間,在《泰晤士高等教育》的排名中處於301-350名的區間。
對於這兩所愛爾蘭大學來說,迎合QS的新舉措為他們帶來了巨大的收益。愛爾蘭國立考克大學的一名官員對《愛爾蘭觀察報》(The Irish Examiner)透露,如果QS授予的星級評級“能吸引一名全日制的國際留學生前來就讀,那麼相關收益便能抵消在QS評級上的花費。”
都柏林理工大學(Dublin Institute of Technology)研究主任、《排名及高等教育的重塑》(Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education)一書的作者艾倫·哈澤孔(Ellen Hazelkorn)在電話中說,“問題在於:這是在購買評級嗎?他們在對排名靠後的學校說,‘說不定你能得到四星或五星的評級’,而學校的網站在宣傳時 也能藉此吸引更多的眼球。”
波士頓學院國際教育中心(Center for International Education at Boston College)主任菲利普·阿爾特巴赫(Philip Altbach)一直對評級持否定態度。他在電話中說,“他們所衡量的只不過是教育領域非常片面的部分而已。”
QS情報部負責人本·紹特(Ben Sowter)說,QS體制內不存在偏袒。他表示,“並不能因為評定機構對大學收費就意味着它們存在偏見。”評級和排名的事務都由紹特負責。
在雜亂無章的學術聲譽世界裡,QS排名長期以來一直是頗具影響力的排名之一。2004年,在上海交大公布首批世界大學排名一年之後,他們開始了此項 工作,此時距離《美國新聞與世界報道》(U.S. News and World Report)刊登第一篇《美國最佳大學》(America’s Best Colleges)導讀已有21年之遙。如今,QS世界“大學700強”榜單的讀者包括上千萬欲申請就讀大學的學生、家長以及學院和大學管理人員。雖然 QS和《泰晤士高等教育》目前是競爭對手,但是在2009年之前,排名榜單都是由雙方聯合發佈。
英國《衛報》(The Guardian)和《美國新聞與世界報道》網站都是QS全球排名的合作媒體。QS的影響還能觸及最高決策層。專家們說,一些國家的政府不會資助就讀未上榜海外大學的學生——有時是排名在100名之後的大學。
英國華威大學(University of Warwick)經濟學家安德魯·奧斯沃爾德(Andrew Oswald)說,那些依據排名來做決策的學校都是在自欺欺人。他在電話中說,“排名都是對過去的回顧。因此這些學校服用的是過期的葯。但是作為一名學 者,我認為QS的排名是最不可靠的——部分原因在於它們的排名最為商業化,另一部分原因在於,相對於其他手段,它們對調查數據更為倚重。”
墨爾本大學(University of Melbourne)高等教育研究中心的西蒙·馬金森(Simon Marginson)在在線期刊《大學世界新聞》(University World News)的9月刊中寫道,QS所採用的方法“穩健性不夠,因此其提供的數據的有效性難以達到社會科學的高度。”在郵件中,馬金森博士控訴QS“曾兩次威 脅要以法律手段來威懾新聞機構”,而這些新聞機構曾發表過他對該公司的批評。
紹特先生認為爭議並沒有嚴重到如此田地。他說,針對馬金森博士在《澳大利亞人報》(The Australian)發表的文章,“我們曾發生過一點小摩擦。報紙在事先給我們看了這篇文章,然而裡面有一些沒有根據的說法,我們因此而發生了爭執,而 且這些內容也被刪除。我們並沒有威脅——只是對待此事比較嚴肅罷了。”