Value of University Ranking Scheme Not Clear
Daniel Dolan (Director, Global Communication Strategy, Weber Shandwick, Japan)
Look out Japan, here comes another university ranking scheme. This is a strange one too. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has announced plans to rank the "industrial competitiveness" of universities, apparently to give the Education, Science and Technology Ministry some means of determining how to allocate budgets among institutions of higher learning. This all sounds harmless enough, but universities to fall under scrutiny should be asking a lot of questions with a lot of speed. And parents and prospective students need to understand how industrial competitiveness rankings should possibly influence decisions such as school choice (hint: they should not).
METI plans to rank the science and engineering programs of universities on two dimensions: research and education. A cornerstone of the ranking criteria for research is a measurement of return on financial investment. For example, the numbers of patents and publications per school will be measured against research funds spent. The Daily Yomiuri (July 14, 2002. p. 2) reports that "as far as education goes, METI is looking into developing a way to measure the value of students graduating from each university".
The planned attempt by METI to rank universities in this way will be crude at best and most likely grossly misleading. Any useful measure of interaction between universities and industry needs to go far beyond two dimensions to tap into the many complexities of such relationships. Assuming that such measurements do in the end provide an accurate assessment of industrial competitiveness, what is the value of this information to society?
I have argued in an earlier essay that one of the existing problems with higher education in Japan is the perception that the proper role of universities is to shape young people for the challenges of corporate life, and ideally to connect the dots by introducing graduating students directly to companies. In this view, universities as venues and opportunities for the personal growth of learners is missed entirely. Industrial competitiveness is about economics--how much value a learner provides to industry upon graduation. Perhaps a more important question is how much value a university provides to a learner. To get at that measurement, in addition to objective criteria such as student evaluations of courses and teachers, you need to talk directly to students asking a battery of carefully designed questions.
Even so, I am not opposed to the METI ranking scheme as long as the data generated is interpreted responsibly and methodologies are made clear. The scheme just does not seem to me to be progress toward meaningful educational reform in Japan.