Rising influence of uni rankings

Nanyang Technological University students studying in the Lee Wee Nam library before the examinations.
Nanyang Technological University students studying in the Lee Wee Nam library before the examinations. PHOTO: ST FILE

Today, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) made the headlines for their good showing in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

NUS, placed in 26th position, was crowned Asia's No. 1 university for the first time, beating the University of Tokyo, while NTU climbed up six positions from last year to be placed 55th.

Just two weeks ago, London-based education consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds released its annual world league tables. NUS went up from 22 to 12, while NTU leapt from 39 to 13, just behind NUS.


No doubt, any ranking, however objective or comprehensive, has its limitations. How, for example, does one quantify the quality of teaching? Ranking companies resort to proxy measures such as the number of staff with PhDs and the ratio of academic staff to students.

Also, most rankings apply to only research- intensive universities. Many other institutions are too small or focused on fulfilling a social role - for example, SIM University, which also runs part-time degrees for working adults, is not included in these rankings.

But despite the limitations, one cannot deny the rising influence of these rankings. Increasingly, students and parents refer to these tables when selecting a university.

According to a study done by international student recruitment agency IDP, students around the world considering an overseas education first look at how high a university ranks, instead of the courses being offered or even the fees. In this era of student mobility and competition for top talent, the influence of university rankings will keep growing.

One can only hope that the rankers work on improving their gradings to make them as rigorous and balanced as possible, and that universities do not sacrifice learning and teaching environments for the sake of rankings.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Rising influence of uni rankings'. Print Edition | Subscribe