Timely reminder of what focus of unis should be

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that university rankings need to go beyond just publications and citations, and instead take into account how a university works with industries, communities and government, and improves these areas (Rankings need to evolve and evaluate wider impact of unis: Ong Ye Kung; Sept 27).

All Singaporeans should be proud of the high rankings of our universities, both regionally and in the world. For example, the National University of Singapore (NUS) was ranked 23rd in the world, and second in Asia, in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The QS World University Rankings by Subject placed the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine as 22nd globally.

But we ought to be mindful of the methodology of the ranking system.

More than 60 per cent of the scores go to research, publications and citations.

While research is important, it does little for the quality of undergraduate education, or for the quality of the general workforce.

Universities can actually game the system by shifting resources away from undergraduate education in order to attract top overseas researchers and professors to their institutions.

Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, who is dean of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, had told me several years ago that while it was proud to be ranked among the top medical schools in the world, the school did not intentionally pursue the ranking.

The school's high ranking came naturally as the school focuses on research and quality education.

Mr Ong's latest comments are a timely reminder that local universities should focus on training good local graduates and providing quality knowledge to the community, rather than focusing on high international rankings.

Desmond Wai Chun Tao (Dr)