The Australian’s higher education editor, Tim Dodd, claims the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the bogus international university rankings system:
For the past decade or more the power and influence of the top three rankings — QS, Times Higher Education and the Academic Ranking of World Universities — has been growing and growing. It became the de facto measure of quality for universities, based on little more than a list of tick boxes that people agreed to agree would determine what was good and worthwhile in higher education.
For any university that moved up these rankings, the rewards were great. More international students came their way, bringing a river of gold in the form of higher tuition fees, which then funded the university’s efforts to move yet higher in the rankings by funding research, and buying in researchers, to win publication and citations in top level journals…
But now it’s time to question why those rankings are so influential, and whether we should buy into the picture they paint of the “quality” of a university.
There is plenty to question. It’s risible that, in the methodology of both the QS and the Times Higher Education rankings, universities do better if they have more international students. Since Australia’s universities are facing crisis because they were too reliant on international students, I think we can all agree this is way too simplistic a formula.
Students, and their parents, should also question why a university that does well in research — which accounts for all of the ARWU ranking and a significant portion of the other two — is necessarily a university that will teach well…
Finally, they should note that gaming the rankings has become a specialty in itself and universities spend a lot of time and effort trying to do that. In other words, a ranking tells you little more than how successful a university has been in playing the rankings game…
But with international student revenue collapsing, Australian universities won’t have nearly the same ability to push themselves up the global rankings. They have lost the money they need to play the game. So we can expect that, after a decade and a half of upward progress, Australian university rankings will slip in coming years. If we are interested in the real “quality” of our universities, that won’t be a bad thing.
Tim Dodd is right. A lot of the university research is of questionable value and is aimed squarely at catapulting universities up the bogus university rankings.
These university rankings are then used as a marketing tool to attract more international students to study in Australia.
That is, a higher university ranking means more prestige and is a sign of quality. This then encourages international students to choose that institution over another and also justifies charging higher tuition fees.
What is lost in this whole debate is the impact on domestic students.
While universities have ploughed the international student bounty into research to boost their rankings, actual teaching quality has been destroyed.
This is evidenced by the ratio of students to academic staff rising materially across Australia’s universities during the long international student boom:
The majority of international students come from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB), and require more teaching assistance than domestic students. Accordingly, the bigger student loads, alongside the higher maintenance of international students, indicates a significant decline of both teaching capacity and quality across Australia’s university system.
We have also witnessed domestic students carrying NESB students through their courses via group assignments, alongside an increase in soft marking scandals and cheating scandals as international students have ballooned.
Instead of worrying about the losing research capability and falling down the bogus world university rankings, Australia’s universities must get back to their primary role of providing high quality education to Australians.
They must stop acting like blood-sucking corporations operating low-quality degree factories for maximum revenue.