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Singapore is right to question university rankings obsession

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As any first year Philosophy undergraduate can tell you, discussion and debate have been the beating heart of university life ever since Plato’s Academy.

With this in mind, the healthy, Socratic-like scepticism academics across Asia are showing towards society’s obsession with university rankings is to be welcomed.

Such rankings may have a purpose, but they are far from ideal, and academics globally are being increasingly bold in questioning this purpose.

Professors Linda Lim and Pang Eng Fong highlighted in the South China Morning Post recently that

placing undue emphasis on research that will capture headlines in academic journals often helps universities climb international league tables, but this comes at the expense of local research that could be more beneficial to society.

Last week, Singapore newspaper Today caused a stir with an article that highlighted the pitfalls of the rankings driven strategy. The article was based on interviews with 10 academics who had left the Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore and was headlined “Opaque policies, fixation with KPIs, rankings: why arts and humanities academics quit NUS, NTU”.

The newspaper later removed the article from its website, with Mediacorp, the paper’s parent company, quoted as saying the piece was the subject of a legal challenge.

Whatever the merits of that particular decision, one thing seems clear: the conversation on university rankings – and their emphasis on work published in academic journals – is here to stay.

That’s a good thing, because it has highlighted a deeper question regarding the role of social sciences in society: what sort of social impact should they be having?

It is a salient question for a region grappling with complex challenges such as climate change, unemployment caused by the growth of artificial intelligence, large scale human displacement, conflicts, poverty and deep-seated........

© South China Morning Post