Rating the ratings

Of course, the assessments we make of higher education institutions reflect the priorities
not just of the bodies that produce them but the cultures from which them come. The
Academic Ranking of World Universities produced by Shanghai Jiaotang University weights its assessment such that 20% of the score comes from how often staff are published in either Nature or Science. The rest of the score is based on number of prizes and number of citations. The Times Higher Education World Rankings (THEWR) stopped working with partner education company Quacquarelli Symonds in 2010 because of a disagreement over methodology and the emphasis on peer review which constituted nearly 40% in the results.

The Times also explained that they had split with QS, which still produces a globally
respected ranking of international universities, because the Humanities were
underweighted. So just as Chinese education prizes the manner in which a student
reproduces knowledge, so the Chinese system of evaluating weights the success of
universities by the degree to which its staff are cited. The THEWR from 2010 onwards
increased the criteria of assessment from 6 to 30 to include details such as the payment of staff. (Although reputation still accounted for around 34%.)

The result was interesting. In October 2012 the BBC reported that the THEWR
showed how British universities were slipping down the rankings. Although the UKs
top institutions still ranked highly, the table’s authors warned that many UK universities
faced “a collapse in their global position within a generation”. And yet a month earlier the
BBC had reported the more positive story that “UK universities take four of six top global
rankings,” following the back of the QS findings. Very similar methodologies can produce
wildly differing outcomes.

What is perhaps most revealing about the systems is what they omit. There is little focus
on the study of the humanities, even in the THEWR ranking let alone the actual studying
of art, not as an artefact but as something to create. Whilst science – it is believed – can
be coded and assessed, creative studies cannot. Indeed when art colleges attempt to
do so, they fail. Christopher Frayling talking on BBC Radio 4, on 19th Novemer 2012
attempted to justify the arts education on a quantifiable effect for the economy. Fortunately he was up against Ron Arad, a former Be Open collaborator, who
explained that he was interested in teaching people how to think.

Indeed it is more important for the research should reflect the traditions, trends,
methodic, perhaps political views and social structure of every school and the region in
general. It is with this in mind that BE OPEN is preparing the rating of the best high schools for arts and creative activities across Europe. Be Open are hoping to find the places where children can be prepared for the best art/design higher education. This will also require a description of the different educational systems in Europe but what is most important is the creation of a comprehensive and transparent methodology.


About cosmopolitanscum

Journalist, writer, commentator, blogging about architecture, urbanism and design from a humanist perspective.
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