(“Brand New Colony,” The Postal Service)
Just when I thought this country had managed to take its first step in cutting itself free from the meaninglessness of educational rankings (see this year’s sufficiently-convincingly-revamped annual secondary school rankings), the moment someone (in this case, the Times) puts forth some kind of meaningless educational ranking, Singapore’s newspeople pounce all over it:
NUS ranked 18th among world’s top 200 universities [channelnewsasia.com, TODAY article]
NUS beats top US varsities to rank No.18 [straitstimes.com.sg]
I don’t disagree with the rankings themselves — let the Times [thes.co.uk] place any amount of subjective numerical emphasis on whatever they see fit (apparently in this case these are: amount of cited research, professor-student ratio and “success in attracting international students and academics”); by doing so, they’ll probably be able to successfully represent one facet (maybe more) of an inherently abstract academic pecking order.
How these rankings were reported in the local news, however, irked me enough that I just had stay up a little longer and struggle to fight off the flu medication just to rant about it. I’m a dumbass, I know.
Also, why do I keep getting sick in time for the weekend?
Anyway, our reporters were their usual ra-ra patriotic cheerleaders, bringing us an affirmation of our national collective self-worth. Examples: ST describes how NUS has “beaten several reputable institutions, including Cornell and Columbia in the United States, to emerge No. 18,” and TODAY informs us that the rankings “place NUS above renowned names such as Columbia (ranked 19th), Cornell (23rd) and Pennsylvania (28th) in the United States; and the University College London (34th) in the United Kingdom.” Wait, let’s not forget NTU: “Not to be left out, Nanyang Technological University came in a respectable 50th, ahead of Brown (60th) in the US; King’s College, London (97th); and RMIT University (55th) in Australia.” (TODAY)
First off, all those numerical comparisons — a little insecure about how our universities stack up against the rest of the world, maybe?
What’s really annoying — and somewhat scary — is that people sensitive to these results (e.g. parents and He Who Must Not Be Named) might actually take them seriously as the be-all and end-all of university rankings of the entire world. This is possible because (1) the newspapers claim nothing to the contrary, such as how different universities specialise in different areas and how one might not be interested in going to a school purely for the number of cited research publications its faculty produces, and (2) we Singaporeans just absolutely revere rankings of any sort, hooray for ordered lists!
I can just imagine kids’ parents advising them based solely on these rankings not to apply to, say, Carnegie Mellon to do Computer Science — because “it’s ranked number 38, leh! Why don’t you go to Harvard instead?” Just imagine the carnage He Who Must Not Be Named could wreak if he realised his scholars are at universities that are ranked outside of the top 20! Shock! Horror! Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if A*Star adjusts its “acceptable university” list (that its scholarship recipients are allowed to study at) based on these rankings.
They ranked Stanford 6th, by the way. Not that I’d have gone to Berkeley (2nd) having seen these rankings, because Cal Sucks. Ack, I hope they don’t beat us too bad at Big Game this year.