12 August, 2020

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Sri Lankan University Ranking: Lessons To Be Learned 

By Nalin Abeysekera

Prof. Nalin Abeysekera

Only Two Sri Lankan Universities can be seen in the list of world university rankings in the year 2020. “The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020” includes almost 1,400 universities across 92 countries. Interestingly the University of Peradeniya has been included for the first time with a ranking between 401-500.  And University of Colombo at 1,001, which was last year in the 801-1000 category. It is important to understand what is this ranking method/s and why Sri Lankan Universities not able to position themselves into some places in Rankings.

What is this University ranking method/s?

It is important to note that there are several ranking methods in the world for Universities. We can see QS Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities(ARWU) and many more. Each rankings use different methodologies. 

QS ranking use six performance indicators relating to research, teaching, employability, and internationalization. They use the following six metrics.

1. Academic Reputation(40%)

2. Employer reputation(10%)

3. Faculty student ratio(20%)

4. Research citations per faculty member(20%)

5. Proportion  of international faculty (5%)

6. Proportion  of international Students (5%)

It can be seen that the 40% weightage has given for academic reputation which is based on an internal global academic survey. According to the intelligence unit of QS “The QS Global Academic Survey now stands as the largest survey of its type yet on the opinions of academics globally with a response of over 100,000 for the 2021 edition of the rankings”. And research citations per faculty member and faculty-student ratio also given prominence with 20% each. It is clear that global acceptance and research play a key role in this context.

What about Times Higher Education World University Rankings method? They Use 13 performance indicators as their methodology. Refer below for further elaboration.

1. Teaching (the learning environment) – 30%

* Reputation survey: 15%

* Staff-to-student ratio: 4.5%

* Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio: 2.25%

* Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio: 6%

* Institutional income: 2.25%

2. Research (volume, income and reputation) – 30%

* Reputation survey: 18%

* Research income: 6%

* Research productivity: 6%

3. Citations (research influence) – 30%

4. International outlook (staff, students, research) – 7.5%

* Proportion of international students: 2.5%

* Proportion of international staff: 2.5%

* International collaboration: 2.5%

5. Industry income (knowledge transfer) – 2.5%

By looking at the indicators it is clear that 60% of weightage has given for research and citations. This is the uniqueness which can be seen  in Times Rankings.

Interestingly Academic Ranking of World  Universities (ARWU) using a different approach as their methodology 

1. ARWU  uses six objective indicators that are weighted as follows:t

2. Number of alumni who win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10%)

3. Number of staff who win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20%)

4. Number of highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories (20%)

5. Number of papers published in Nature and Science (20%)

6. Number of papers indexed in Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index (20%)

7. Per capita academic performance of an institution (10%)

By looking at the rankings of ARWU it is clear that the traditional weightage system has been adopted as the methodology .

If you really compare QS Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and Academic Ranking of World  Universities(ARWU) you can see they use different mechanisms as methodology. Anyway the measurements like “academic reputation” is really debatable as it only reflects the reputation of given university rather than the actual performance.

Ranking of Sri Lankan Universities 

I have seen  Sri Lankan higher authorities used  Webometrics to rank universities in the past. Anyway, The Webometrics ranking is actually targeting to promote Web publication. There are certain measurements that have been used in this ranking consist of supporting Open Access initiatives, electronic access to scientific publications, and to other academic materials(Abeysekera,2011). Nevertheless, now we can see University Grant Commission (UGC ) has adopted scientific methods in ranking Sri Lankan universities. Anyway as mentioned earlier only two Sri Lankan universities are among 1400 universities around the globe. This is based on Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In this ranking method, 60% weightage is given for research and citations. Even you have given perfect teaching with quality lecturing you are in trouble! I think we need to reflect on whether Sri Lankan universities are teaching or research universities. We need to position our universities based on the competences. Some countries used their university colleges for more economic contributions with industry collaborations (they measure the performance of university by looking at how many dollars contributed per year for national income)  while universities concentrating for research. And the role of University academics should be properly defined by the authorities. There is a need to aware of the community on ranking methods and the mechanism. And I believe we need to have a holistic approach for this with the collaboration of all sectors (education as well as other industries with proper synergy). We need to see the big picture as Sri Lanka spends only 0.11% on research and development from GDP.

Conclusion 

COVID -19 created a strategic window for Sri Lanka to revisit and do some radical changes for many sectors. There is a need for educational reform which is a must. In higher education, we need to produce a graduate with the sense of belongingness. That is a must and not “employable graduate” but “gradate with entrepreneurship skills” needs to be produced. And also there is a need for Universities to define their role to position themselves in world university rankings as well.

References

Abeysekera ,N (2011), http://uteachers.blogspot.com/2011/06/world-university-rankings-sri-lanka-and.html

*The writer is Professor in Management Studies at Open University of Sri Lanka You can reach Professor Abeysekera on nalinabeysekera@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    The performance of Sri Lankan universities need to be measured and the Times rankings are internationally accepted. However in Sri Lanka we need to measure our own key performance indicators. The most important indicators are employability in a digitally inter-connected world, absence of ragging, percentage of students unemployed after a specified period, Academic and Employer Reputation, proportion of international students and the staff-student ratio. Few days ago a parent was lamenting that his son who passed out three years ago with a degree in Chemistry is still unemployed. Perhaps a poor command of English might have been a contributory factor, but we cannot afford to create unemployed graduates with the limited resources available for education.

  • 7
    0

    The vexatious issue of how a university should be ranked is dependent on the social, cultural and economic environment in which it is conducted. For example, in a communist country like Russia the emphasis is unlikely to be financial (ie employability or return on investment) and more on facilitating new knowledge at the core, whereas in some (not all) American universities it is very much what industry stipulates, based on economic credentials. Sri Lanka is at best a basket case in terms of how the country is managed, with merit a distant runner-up to loyalty and connections. In such an environment where corruption is endemic, universities would be hard pressed to be independent of the will of the ruling class of politicians and industrialists. Favouritism is rampant in SL institutions. Academic boards are often infiltrated by confidantes of political bigwigs. Pure research does not get enough funding. Staff are generally frustrated and disillusioned, while students are hassled by political agitators within. Given all the above, there is little wonder that international accreditors place SL institutions at a similar level that the foreign financial lenders do. They cannot risk their own reputation..!

    • 2
      0

      We don’t need rankings to figure out the state of our Universities. Never mind Nobel Prizes, we have Deans who. take advice from Natha Deviyo on kidney disease. Some time ago, a trickster produced a car purportedly running on water. Some senior politicians were taken in, but no academic (except Kumar David, I think) had the spine to publicly trash it. And we also had “Engineer” Champika Ranawaka’s much ballyhooed petrol made from siri-siri bags!

      • 0
        0

        OC
        Do not be too hard on Champika. Recycling polythene for fuel is an idea that makes sense where reprocessing bags has reached its limit.
        The media are also used to picking out juicy bits of any comment by a politician. (I think that CR was a civil engineer and not a chemical or mechanical engineer.)

        • 0
          0

          S.J.
          Doesn’t it amount to producing fuel by burning even more fuel, the way Champika did it?

          • 0
            0

            OC
            I do not know the exact energy arithmetic, but expect a marginal benefit. The economics of it is something else.
            I think that it has been tried out elsewhere, and not his own.

        • 0
          0

          SJ,
          .
          recylcing polythene has contributed a lot in indian fashion industry.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNXJCdxzeoA
          .
          I thought CR is elec. Engineer. I am not sure though.

          • 0
            0

            Yes, recycling is okay. But this is different.

            • 0
              0

              OC & LM
              That is a far more sensible way to handle polythene waste.

  • 5
    2

    our universities are a disaster. We keep going down in ranking. Academic standards are below average. The products are simply incapable of effective contribution as adults and nation building.

    Universities are only famous for crude and brutal rag. This is a national disgrace

    • 0
      0

      This is public secret to many if they closely study the nature of today’s graduates.
      :
      Unlike those days, those who become graduates at local Unis today are more or less like battery-cage poultry farming. It has only become the paper qualification to many. I think srilanken uni should work with country’s industries together as is the case in Europe. If they would not do so, how can they be part of the contriubution in the development of the country ?
      .
      Alone for COVID crisis, the state did not contact country’s specialists in the containment of the virus spread within the country. Instead their men such as GMOA was their first hand fake-specialists to rely on the information. Not a single person in that virulent body-GMOA is qualified in contagious medicine or epidemiology in contagious medicine. Did you guys watch various programs telecasted by local TV channels where the Uni dons were among the panelists ? I dont think so?
      This was also the case in terms of ECONOMICs – we have enough researchers in Economics but none of them are interviewed when spreading blant lies based on ” MAHBANEKKU mankollaya” -so called broad day bond bank scam. Today, SIRASA TV is silent on that matter, because their aim was to attack Mr Wicramsinghe using few former men of Central Bank.

  • 5
    1

    Ranking universities is a bad idea. In places like UK and here in Australia, ranking has damaged scholarship. Management is obsessed with metrics and try to play games. Because reputation is a criterion, people are asked to suggest names of those who will say good things and they are approached and asked to say good things. Some places like Singapore and Saudi Arabia try to go up these ranking tables by throwing money — they hire visiting scholars who then put the names of these universities in papers they publish, even though the research was done elsewhere. This kind of cheating does nothing to developing local scholarship and hence these two countries have very little indigenous research after several decades of investing heavily. I know someone with highly cited publications who is a visiting professor in a Saudi university, but he has *never* actually been there. And when you are outside about the top 200 or so, ranking makes no sense because the scores are very similar. Just one or two points difference on a very bad measurement will push you several tens or even hundred places in the tables. So it is bonkers to say a university at 500 is so much better than one at 1000.

    • 0
      0

      SAV,

      Agree with you. Comparing universities on a global scale is to enforce a conformity that ignores the unique circumstances, cultures, needs, aspirations and goals of different countries, regions, communities, etc.

      So SL universities don’t need to measure themselves by the ranking charade in the West and the Asian countries who want to imitate them.

      But Sri Lankan universities should try to establish a reputation for quality at least within the South Asian region. A culture of continuous improvement — adopting the Japanese Kaizen way of doing things — may help Sri Lankan universities, and then filter down to the schools that feed them.

      Aside: How come you were talking about meeting people in the UK, and then all of a sudden talking about being in Australia? Doing some summer traveling academic work or sabbatical ?

      • 0
        0

        Agnos, I wish to step in, only to make the exchanges livelier.
        .
        When you say , ‘Agree with you’, you are not entirely in agreement, are you? What are you agreeing with. That is an essential part of the discussion.
        .
        The Rankings are not the final verdict; but, when you live in a Global Village, conformity is helpful. The gap may be marginal or negligible the further away you are placed from the top. But, rankings matter. If not, Prof. Nalin Abeysekera would not have taken the time to draw our attention to it.
        .
        University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, was among the best Universities in the world. University of Peradeniya, has taken a dip. What happened in between is worth looking at.
        .
        I have my thoughts on it. At this juncture, that would be a digression.

        • 0
          0

          Nathan,

          I agreed with SAV on his claim that management becomes obsessed with metrics and true scholarship suffers. One would have thought universities would remain bastions focusing on the life of the mind, shielded from predatory impulses of capitalism that have corrupted many other aspects of our lives. But alas, the tentacles of capitalism have inexorably spread to universities, corrupting academia as well.

          “University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, was among the best Universities in the world.”

          In whose opinion? Maybe older generations of Sri Lankans themselves maintained this claim based on Peradeniya’s connection to universities in the colonial power, Britain. But the university was primarily focused on undergraduate education in a country with a population that was perhaps 12 million at the time the claim was made. So to claim the talent at Peradeniya could compare to universities in the much larger US, Europe, Russia, China and India would have been a baseless claim, not backed by any hard evidence.

          For the same reason, Singapore’s position at the top of these Asian rankings should be viewed with a good deal of skepticism.

          • 0
            0

            Agnos,
            My intervention was only to make the exchanges livelier. Your outburst validates.

            University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, was received well. There was no metrics, at that time.
            It was on the right footing for Postgraduate work. The University was deprived of the promise it showed.

          • 0
            0

            Agnos,
            “University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, was among the best Universities in the world.”
            This is rather like the belief that we speak better English than the Brits.
            No offence, but the somewhat disjointed efforts of the author himself give the lie to this.

            • 0
              0

              Don’t you think that many foreigners speak better English than a majority of Brits?

              • 0
                0

                S.J,
                Yes, many Brits have incomprehensible accents, and going by social media, some can’t even write it.
                But Sri Lankans in general speak English with a Sinhala or Tamil rhythm.

                • 1
                  0

                  OC: You might have come across this about Lankan rhythm
                  https://tinyurl.com/y5kl55k4
                  But rhythm is of secondary importance I think. If you watch Puswedilla play, the secretary in it does a really good job of slowing down on rhythm and still gets across a distinct Sri Lankan effect by using other mannerisms.

                  • 0
                    0

                    SAV,
                    I was looking for that clip to post to SJ, but couldn’t find it!
                    The Brits themselves have changed so much and nobody speaks like that professor nowadays. But strangely enough, going by the Sinhala guy’s speech, Sinhala has not changed in 70+ years.

                    • 0
                      0


                      FOR YOUR INFORMATION.

                      English Proficiency Index
                      .
                      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EF_English_Proficiency_Index
                      :
                      69 Iran 48.69 Low Proficiency
                      70 United Arab Emirates 48.19 Very Low Proficiency
                      71 Bangladesh 48.11 Very Low Proficiency
                      72 Maldives 48.02 Very Low Proficiency
                      73 Venezuela 47.81 Very Low Proficiency
                      74 Thailand 47.61 Very Low Proficiency
                      75 Jordan 47.21 Very Low Proficiency
                      76 Morocco 47.19 Very Low Proficiency
                      77 Egypt 47.11 Very Low Proficiency
                      78 Sri Lanka 47.10 Very Low Proficiency
                      79 Turkey 46.81 Very Low Proficiency
                      80 Qatar 46.79 Very Low Proficiency
                      81 Ecuador 46.57 Very Low Proficiency
                      82 Syria 46.36 Very Low Proficiency

                    • 0
                      0

                      OC
                      Sinhala speech has been largely unified following the advent of the radio and high levels of literacy. (The quality of Sinhala has declined, thanks to the TV.)
                      There may be still be some residual regional features; but, overall, unification is far more successful than in the case of Tamil, even within Sri Lanka.

                • 0
                  0

                  OC and SJ@

                  Is their any nation in the world that would not have their own accents in their native langauge ?. No
                  I know few SL doctors reutrned home not being able to continue their job life in the UK due to language barriers (not being able to get on with the accents of the patients from both sides).

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EF_English_Proficiency_Index

                  Germans speak English to their own accent while south africans are identified by their unique accent. Those tamils from Tamil nadu speak their tamil with their own accent. Sinhalaya from south have their own accents. ” makkaeyi, ee mokateyi -…what, or for what purpose”…

                  The English, Germans, french and other nations have their own accents in their language. Sometimes, within their own country they fail to understand their fellow natives. For instance, in Germany, those who come from eastern provinces and Bavaria are isolated today with some being faced heavy discriminations on the langauge in their job life. And frankophon swiss provinces would not speak “swiss german” with their accent while austrians come with their own accent.

                  • 0
                    0

                    Leela,
                    Big countries like Germany or UK have regional accents in the common language. But some very small countries don’t , like Singapore.

              • 0
                0

                SJ,
                .
                this may be right.
                .
                If you visit the hospitals in UK, not whites but Brits are mostly the head of the depts and the ones holding the higher positions.
                :
                There are whole lot of unemployed in UK today. Some believe, if Portugal would collapse to the manner Greece faced it, next one behind in that row would be UK. I have friends that worked for several hospitals in Nottingham- many of them returned to Germany today- with their English friends. Since Brexit is the case, those english canddiates that thought to find their jobs within EU is automatically gone out their choices.

      • 4
        0

        Agnos:
        One has to be here there and everywhere these days — there are white vans and federal agents about!
        +
        I know several very talented young academics in SL universities: Linguists, Electrical engineers, Zoologists, Poets, Computer Scientists, Lawyers and so on. On occasional visits I meet them and I learn much from interacting with them. In scholarship, they are as good as those in western universities. But they are stuck in a system that refuses to let them bring out the best in them. There are four obstacles to progress in SL universities:
        (a) Students — a third of them are thugs who ought not to be in university, certainly not at public expense;
        (b) English — the effects of swabhasha education is feeding through at faculty level now, so access to modern knowledge, quick adoption of new ideas into curriculum and developing research is difficult;
        (c) Government — monotonic hierarchical control and bureaucracy in the name of quality assurance and accountability; and
        (d) Dinosaurs — among the older generation of academics, you find people who block progress that threatens age old ideas. Hierarchical control is more from these than even from the government — hence faculty appointments are usually from their own students. [ Same is true for very senior positions also — every Vice Chancellor appointment has been someone local to a university.

        • 0
          0

          SAV,

          I don’t disagree that there are pockets of excellence within universities in Sri Lanka that can match or surpass universities in other countries, including the West.

          But the faculty you talk about were among the few who excelled locally and then probably did their postgraduate degrees overseas.

          I am focusing on the talent pool available for a university, or student selectivity. See my response to SJ below.

  • 0
    0

    Ranking is usually problematic.

    Each university may have an individual identity.

    Comparing different Universities and ranking them using a set of performance indicators is like comparing apples and oranges.

    There may be bias in the selection criteria.

    This may result in a mad race to go up in the ladder.

  • 2
    0

    I remember that the Times Higher Education Supplement, as early as in the 1980s, carried results of surveys among British universities identifying universities considered best for undergraduate education and research.
    *
    As with the astrology page in newspapers, several who disbelieve do take a regular peek at rankings.
    With competition for overseas students creeping up (amid rising demand from the Third World and government curtailment of university funding) ranking became an elaborate business.
    Like rival international beauty contests there are rival university ranking exercises.
    Yet, they serve a purpose for students who lack any idea of where to go for higher studies, especially if they seek to go abroad. To them, ranking meant some information in place of no information on standards.
    *
    From what I have seen, some ranking schemes are taken seriously by universities here which strive to have a three digit ranking (as two digits or fewer is beyond reach). Peradeniya was the underdog in the world of ranking because it did not know the game. Colombo and Moratuwa were ahead of it for decades in some rankings reported locally.
    It looks like Peradeniya did its homework of late.
    *
    Like in IQ tests, there is built-in bias in all ranking.

    • 0
      0

      SJ,

      I just looked at the THE Asian rankings. Peradeniya is listed at 69th, same as IIT Bombay, and IIT Madras is ranked 125th, whereas less reputed Indian universities are ranked much higher. It is a laughable ranking, not only because of everything I know about the strengths of the IITs in engineering and the quality of their graduates, but other rankings within India and globally put IITM at or near the top.

      Even if IITM focuses mainly on STEM, clearly the methodologies and data used for the THE rankings are highly flawed.

      • 0
        0

        Agnos
        I have very little to quarrel as I do not hold that any ranking is precise.
        However, I am happy for Peradeniya although I do not attach much academic value to the ranking process.The ranking could make a positive difference to Pdn, with which my association goes back 60 years, counting Colombo days.
        *
        People have different ideas about what a university should be; and one has every right to question the criteria used.
        Moratuwa may have lost out for the same reason as IITM.
        But given whatever criteria used, Peradeniya seems to have done well.
        What surprises me is how Peradeniya shot up from nearly nowhere.
        *
        Less reputed a place may be, but if it performed well by the criteria used, it can surpass a reputed place.
        But is not reputation itself rather subjective, like that of the old Austin A40 and Morris Minor in Jaffna even in the 1970s.
        *
        Discipline wise assessments will certainly yield very different results.

        • 0
          0

          SJ,

          I am focusing on the most important criterion that makes excellence and reputation possible, student selectivity. It seems THE is forgetting this most important factor.

          The reputation of India’s IITs is inextricably linked to their ability to draw students from a pool of 1.3 billion people. TN alone has maybe 70-80 million people, but students from many other Indian states also attend IITM.

          There are some objective measures of student selectivity, including high school GPA and scores in standardized exams. Those are not perfect but still something that allows for objective comparisons.

          As a graduate of Peradeniya myself, I too think it is good for the university to work this game as long as this is a game being played globally, and then seek to improve from there. But none should be carried away with it; if they do, they will be trapped in many contradictions.

          • 0
            0

            Agnos
            I agree that it is a factor to consider, but what weight it should carry I am not sure.
            How IITM slipped behind other IITs is another thing that surprised me, but there was some bad publicity for IITM about its handling of student affairs a few years ago. It seemed not quite the place for liberal thinking. But that would not have bothered the THE team.
            I fully endorse the warning in your last sentence.

            • 0
              0

              Agnos: Yes, I got distracted from the topic of ranking and went into obstacles to progress in SL universities. With student intake as a measure (which is used in some tables — e.g. The Guardian in the UK), what one measures is the social class of where they come from. There are always exceptions, but largely, especially given the tuition culture, a Kilinochchi farmers child is not on the same level playing field as a Jaffna middle class fellow. This correlates strongly with other things these tables measure — such as employment prospects, where again, networking and interview skills are better developed among the already affluent. Obsession with league tables perpetuates this inequality. My hunch is (and I don’t have data on this) social mobility in Sri Lanka is less now than it was in the 50’s/60’s. There is good evidence this is true for the UK (read Danny Dorling, for example).

              • 0
                0

                SJ, SAV,

                The rankings published by various media fall into 3 categories:

                1. Rankings focusing on excellence for undergraduate experience. Student selectivity is a critical factor. Underprivileged students who get excellent grades in school can get scholarships, so the social class factor is somewhat mitigated. It is useful for high school students looking to apply to universities. My son in high school pays attention to this.

                2. Rankings focusing on the totality of the university experience, including post-graduate education and research. Often more useful to graduate students. Selectivity and objective comparisons are possible here as well.

                3. Global rankings, focusing international opinion, Nobel Laureates, etc. This kind of ranking excludes student selectivity, mainly because of the difficulty of comparing rigor across different national systems. Mainly subjective, displaying wild swings, and not very reliable or useful.

                Then there is also the issue of ranking the university as a whole vs. specific academic disciplines. So, instead of simply looking at the final rankings, if people pay attention to each of the criterion being used and whether it is relevant, they can gain insights from it.

                • 0
                  0

                  Agnos.
                  Thanks.

                • 0
                  0

                  //Underprivileged students who get excellent grades in school //
                  The point is

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