Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Reminders About Rankings n Quality 


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

There is no reason for me to explain why I hate University rankings. Or is there? Today, I attended a talk by Professor Kevin Kinser from Penn State on campus at AUC.

He talked about several really important things and gave subtle critiques of rankings. So I just wanna summarize and reflect here.

  1. I learned the term non-endemic education, when an institution offers education outside of its native environment. Like branch canpuses. Like Western universities in Arab countries. Ish. Like AUC. Though I would say AUC is a cultural hybrid and evolves in response to local and global needs (because who said Egyptians only look locally for future growth?). I did like his critical angle on dangers of non-endemic education and potential colonialism (which I mention with detailed examples in my dissertation; i just didn’t know the term non-endemic, just used postcolonial lens). He also mentioned logistical and cultural issues related to nationality and culture of teachers in these institutions. It’s hard being an American at AUC. It’s hard being an Egyptian at AUC. It’s relatively easier being an AUCian at AUC tbh
  2. He talked about quality as an internal vs external thing. Does a University decide its own internal purpose and judge itself on achieving it, or do external bodies have a say? External bodies may be stakeholders like parents and students, but also accreditors and governments. Of course, both, all. My questions; Internally, who gets to decide? Admin, faculty, students? In what ways? Who gets heard? If all the ppl in upper admin faculty positions are of a certain background (e.g. male, scientist, Egyptian or American or whatever) do they represent the institution?
  3. He asked important questions such as how much power should external QA have and who determines standards. 
  4. He reminded of tension between QA as consistency, an inherently conservative process that may stifle innovation. Whereas futuristic thinking is important 
  5. He mentioned a QA HE organization called INQAAHE which I need to check out
  6. He mentioned different University rankings and their criteria, which as we all know focus heavily on research and reputation. The one thing that is truly common amongst them is that they don’t, for the most part, focus on learning or teaching  

He raised many critical questions in very subtle and calm ways. I hope I can speak that way one day 😉

For me, two key things stood out. These aren’t news to anyone. But they were solidified today:

  1. If you focus on rankings you will allow some external body to look at proxies of your quality, and you will ultimately sacrifice quality of teaching by the ways you prioritize research 
  2. If you focus on reputation, you may end up spending more time doing what is visible globally rather than what is impactful locally. And though both matter, we need to keep asking ourselves what our deeper purpose is

I know this isn’t straightforward. Parents and students and faculty look at rankings. Low ranking may discourage good faculty from joining an institution. Same for students. But then, you don’t wanna get the students only to give them poor quality education while their faculty are busy scrambling to do research. 

I am very strongly pro a system of research-focused faculty who teach graduate/senior courses beside teaching-focused faculty who are required to do minimal research. I don’t understand why successful faculty need to be Jacks of all trades. And no one wins.

I know the problem of two tracks will create newer hierarchies of prestige. But our institution ALREADY has multiple parallel systems. People with (mostly) masters degrees as non-tenure track in some departments. People with industry experience as professors of Practice. Postdocs. So I don’t see why not add one more of these categories, if done transparently and by the faculty member’s choice, and ensuring equitabl compensation in all ways.

But that’s just me.

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