Recently, there has been much discussion in Bangladesh about international ranking of universities. This follows the absence of any Bangladeshi university in major ranking lists, while some universities in the neighbouring countries such as India, Pakistan and Nepal have succeeded in having their names included in ranking.
Ranking of universities, being increasingly important in a globalised world, is generally recognised to improve the quality of education and research as a benchmarking tool. Ranking helps improve transparency and foster competition. It enhances the visibility and reputation of a university, and indeed the reputation of a country. World university ranking in its present form probably started in 2003 with the introduction of what is currently known as the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Three of the most influential global university ranking systems are ARWU, Times Higher Education (THE), and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
ARWU uses the following indicators and weightage for world university ranking: 1) Quality of Education (alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals) - 10 percent; 2a) Quality of Faculty (staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals) - 20 percent; 2b) Quality of Faculty (highly cited researchers) - 20 percent; 3a) Research Output (papers published in Nature and Science) - 20 percent; 3b) Research Output (papers indexed in Web of Science) - 20 percent; and 4) Per Capita Performance (academic) - 10 percent.
Most indicators above—e.g. the number of Nobel Prize winners, and publications in most prestigious journals like Nature and Science, etc.—are linked with research achievements at the highest level. For determining the quality of faculty and quality of research output, ARWU uses the most esteemed bibliographic data base, the Web of Science (WoS), which indexes selected high-quality journals.
The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking uses five criteria: 1) Teaching - 30 percent (1a. Reputation survey - 15 percent, 1b. Staff-to-student ratio - 4.5 percent, 1c. Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio - 2.25 percent, 1d. Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio - 6 percent, 1e. Institutional income - 2.25 percent); 2) Research - 30 percent (2a. Reputation survey - 18 percent, 2b. Research income - 6 percent, 2c. Research productivity - 6 percent); 3) Citations (research influence) - 30 percent; 4) International outlook - 7.5 percent (4a. International-to-domestic-student ratio - 2.5 percent, 4b. International-to-domestic-staff ratio - 2.5 percent, 4c. International collaboration - 2.5 percent); and 5) Industry income (knowledge transfer) - 2.5 percent.
The THE ranking assigns 30 percent to teaching, and 60 percent to research and research influence (citation) combined. A substantial weightage for teaching and research comes from surveys conducted by THE. It also takes into account doctoral students in a university, which relate to the strength of postgraduate programme. THE puts 30 percent weightage on citation. Citation refers to the quotes that a research paper receives from other researchers. A higher number of citations supposedly means that the authors have created greater academic impact on the research community. For calculating research output and citation, THE uses Scopus database which is not as high-ranking as WoS used by ARWU.
QS World University Ranking uses six criteria: 1) Academic Reputation - 40 percent; 2) Employer Reputation – 10 percent; 3) Faculty/Student Ratio – 20 percent; 4) Citations per faculty – 20 percent; 5) International Faculty Ratio - 5 percent; and 6) International Student Ratio - 5 percent.
QS determines academic reputation and employer reputation totalling 50 percent through surveys conducted among national and international stakeholders. Faculty/student ratio also has a substantial weightage (20 percent). Citation per faculty, a measure of research performance, accounts for 20 percent. Like THE, QS also counts citation based on Scopus. The international character of a university, in terms of international faculty and students, receives 10 percent weightage. Compared with THE (33 percent), QS (50 percent) puts more weightage on the perceived reputation determined through surveys.
Generally, ARWU, being most skewed towards highest quality research, is suitable for universities with a very strong research base. THE is second in terms of putting emphasis on research, while QS puts lesser weight on research compared with the other two.
Typically, a university follows a ranking system(s) which is in line with its vision and mission. Universities not very strong in research tend to follow QS ranking. For instance, universities in Malaysia have been focusing on QS ranking. The University of Malaya (UM), the oldest in Malaysia, can be considered as an example. In 2012, UM stood at 156th position in the QS World University Ranking. Since then, UM, backed by total policy and funding support from the government and guided by its own strategic plan, has been putting focused efforts to improve its performance against each of the QS criteria. UM established a dedicated strategic planning unit for ranking which helps it make steady progress. Currently, UM ranks 70th in the QS World University Ranking.
Since even the top universities in Bangladesh are at present not very active in research, they may target QS ranking out of the three prestigious ranking systems. The bottom line for performing well in ranking is simple: improve the quality of education, increase the quality and quantity of research output, and enhance visibility. As mentioned above, QS puts much emphasis on academic and employer reputation. As for academic reputation, a university should carry out research and publish in indexed journals. Regarding employer reputation, universities must produce graduates with adequate subject-matter knowledge and skills, and transferrable skills so that they perform well professionally.
The recent HEQEP project run by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on enhancing institutional quality should help in this regard. For both academic reputation and employer reputation, visibility and branding are important. Citation per faculty, an important QS criterion, would be an issue for Bangladeshi universities. This requires that the faculty publish research papers in journals indexed by Scopus. Indeed, the quality and relevance of these papers should be adequate enough to receive citations. To achieve this, ample resources have to be made available to the universities to produce quality research outputs. Universities need to strengthen their research leadership and management skills, research infrastructure, postgraduate programmes, and incentive schemes for researchers.
Bangladeshi universities may not perform well in areas like international faculty and students. These, accounting for 10 percent in QS ranking, should not be of much concern at this stage. Universities interested in participating in ranking should devise their strategic plans and put dedicated efforts to this end, as it is a long-term endeavour.
After nearly 50 years of independence, Bangladesh deserves to have at least a few of her universities included in a respectable world university ranking system, e.g. QS. Ranking is important not only for national prestige but also for attracting hi-tech foreign investment. The latter is vital for Bangladesh to achieve the status of a middle-income nation. Given the concentration of talents in the top universities in Bangladesh, it should not be very difficult to achieve respectable ranking positions. However, the commitment should begin at the national level. To start, the government may focus on a few universities—for example, Dhaka University, BUET, etc.—and provide them with adequate resources and support so that they can in turn strive to elevate national prestige.
A.S.M.A. Haseeb is the former Head of the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering, BUET, Dhaka, and is currently the Dean, Innovative Industry and Sustainability Science Research Cluster, University of Malaya, Malaysia. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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