Tuesday, January 07, 2014
University Rankings and The Perils of Prestige
Roger Brown's impressive essay in Times Higher Education regarding the quest for prestige in Higher Education is a must read. The fact that the four new universities admitted into UK's elite Russell Group paid £500,000 apiece for the privilege goes on to show how dysfunctional all of this has become, particularly because this only appears so normal.
Martin Trow, quoted by Dr Brown, may have said that Higher Education is not an outcome, but a process, but this does not seem to be the message of Higher Education anywhere in the world. Higher Education, instead of being seen as a progression to advanced level of education after school, is usually projected as a 'Higher' thing, a marker for power and prestige. A prestige-obsessed sector wastes precious resources in pursuit of prestige, as observed not just in UK, but in the US, where 'Harvard Envy' (as Andrew Rosen puts it) pushes up the costs and reduces faculty interaction in the unending quest of academic prestige by the institutions; in the developing countries, league tables and counter league tables are created, and university presidents spend more time obsessed with league table outcomes than student experience.
Universities, on one hand, seek legitimacy by talking about their social mission - the only way to gain public subsidies in a democratic society. In practice, however, they play a different game of prestige, chocking social mobility and infinitely creating clubs with clubs. The problem with this is that when universities become too obsessed about their own credentials, they become inward-looking and detached from the rest of the world, a sure way to obsolence.
This is indeed a bigger problem in the developing countries than more matured economies. A new middle class is now being created and many countries in Asia and Africa are struggling with a groundswell of aspiration, but the only idea of Higher Education available to the policy-makers of these countries is this prestige-obsessed model of Higher Education, where keeping most people out is the objective rather than getting them in. Most countries are struggling to reconcile these two models, but poorly - and even there are complaints about universities in the miracle land of China ('Not educating the masses' - read this in The Economist). Bribing to get into elite technical schools have become common in many countries, a sure thing when poor institutional structure, selective institution and infinite demand meet.
I hear a lot of discussion about the necessity of creating a Chinese (or Indian, or Malaysian) model of Higher Education free from Western influences, but these efforts usually take the mistaken view of banning Western thought from the classroom (thus following the similar inward looking model of most Western classrooms). The point is indeed elsewhere: This obsession with prestige is one reason why the Western models of Higher Education may not be suitable for a country with a different socio-economic reality sitting on a groundswell of aspiration. If India, for example, has to build a Higher Education sector suitable for India, it needs to solely focus on social mobility above all else, creating space for innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities; the current obsession with creating name-brand institutions with ever-more-selective approaches is a mistake. But, indeed, neither the elite-educated policy makers, nor commentators and researchers in Higher Education (both in India and the West) can see beyond the paradigm of power and prestige. This is exactly why the opposite always gets done.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the...
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are ...
My previous post, o n whether Hinduism is the only thing to unite India , to which my answer was negative, was based on the idea that Indi...
The title of this post is in quotes because someone told me this. This was some days ago, over lunch in London, something that I stayed wi...
We knew this anecdotally: That Engineering graduates can not find a job in India. Now, we have some numbers: AICTE says that 60% of the 80...
It is common to hear - Globalization is not working for everyone! The Right says it, and believes that closed societies with open economie...
India is in the middle of a great transformation, driven by the aspirations of its young people. This transformation is apparent to an...
Today's election results in five Indian states may or may not be noticed by the world media, but they are, in a way, no less significa...
When facts change.. I enthused when Labour Party chose Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. It promised an escape from politics as usual, a b...
Or, I could have said - why I can't read business books. At least, not anymore. This may seem inconsequential, but it is not for m...
How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.