More on College Rankings
This article in the New York Times discusses a controversy surrounding a recent ranking of colleges that put Egypt’s University of Alexandria among the top 200 universities in the world. An informed observer describes the school as “not even the best university in Alexandria“.
How did this school achieve such a high ranking? In a subcategory measuring the impact of research, which counted for approximately 33% of the school’s overall score, the University of Alexandria placed fourth in the world, ahead of Harvard and Stanford. Sound fishy? Seems as though most of the research citations came from one professor who published 320 articles in a journal he, himself, was in charge of.
Trying to come up with quantitative measures for colleges (or high schools, or teachers) is tricky business. Not only is it hard to agree on what to measure, but it’s tough to figure out how to measure it.
And once the rating culture sets in, gaming of the system, as seen in this particular case, will inevitably follow. “Tell me how I will be measured, and I will tell you how I will behave“. I’m not sure who said this originally, but an engineer friend shared it with me many years ago, and it always comes to mind in these situations.
Hopefully in the future, more schools will follow the example of Reed College and refuse to participate in these rankings.