I received an email, in which some colleagues of the School of Business and Economics wanted to share successes with me: Best European university in the age category 35-40; best Master with more than 85 percent female students in the Keuzegids; best Dutch university in the Euregion, Quadruple Corona Accreditation by the United Organization for People, Planet and Profit Maximization; highest climber in the top 2 of Best Bachelor Studies in Relevant Topics That Matter; top 27 Masters of the Universe.
I was waiting for overjoyed colleagues running into my office with splashing champagne to share these successes. But nothing happened. The email did trigger many questions, among which: Is the UM Harvard at the Maas? Or Oxford-upon-Jeker? Maasbridge perhaps? Are our students among the best educated in the world? Those questions have kept me busy for the past weeks. And here’s my answer: No one knows.
A top position in some global ranking first and foremost indicates that you had the means (dedicated people, knowledge of favourable answers, a ranking management information system) and the will to respond to a rater. This reduces a truly global ranking to a ranking among the ‘Wealthy, Western and Willing’. Besides, a high rank just means that you answered specific questions from a specific rater with specific cultural values more favourable than others. These questions may or may not measure quality in education. So all we may conclude from these achievements is: We’re relatively successful in providing the rater with what they rate.
Last week’s Observant, the number 1 of weekly UM magazines, reported on the highest ranked UM employee, who considers rankings to be a necessary evil; ‘evil’ because it’s about comparing apples and oranges and perverse incentives, and ‘necessary’ since potential Russian and Asian students seem to use them.
So why not save the rankings for external purposes such as Russia and Asia? Sharing these dubious successes among UM employees may slide into unfounded complacency. Contemplating our success-navel will not bring us any further. Let’s share our failures instead. That’s where (leading in) learning begins.
Thomas Thijssens, lecturer at SBE