UNIVERSITY AND RANKING: Why you contribute to it.
About a couple of weeks ago, I visited a friend who is a Makerere University student. Before any greetings, he sprang up and asked a question. Reading his face, there was posit evidence he could have been rolling and wrestling with this question for quite a while. He asked, “Kakaire, what can be done to improve the university ranking?”. I clearly knew there are no dial-knob solutions to this kind of problem. I told him it was not under his powers and responsibility to improve the university ranking. I further advised him to do his best as a student to perform and improve himself as an individual who can positively impact society in innovative and creative ways in his career field. My answer, when synthetically constructed, to a certain extent, can improve the university ranking after sometime factoring in delay.
According to QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the world’s leading provider of services, analytics, and insights to the global higher education sector, universities are ranked using a four-factor metric which includes: 1) Academic Indicators which comprise of Academic Reputation, H index (which attempts to measure both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar), citations per faculty and staff with PhDs, 2) Employer indicators which comprise of employer reputation, Employers’ presence on campus, graduate employment rate and alumni outcomes, 3) Student Indicators which comprise of Faculty / Student ratio and student exchange inbound (the internationalization of the student body) and 4) International indicators which comprise of international faculty index and international student index.
Approaching the problem, I clearly knew I needed not to look at it as an individual entity that is unrelated to anything else. I knew it existed in an ecosystem thus no button-press solutions could solve it. My talk revolved around the central argument that university is a system comprising of infinite interrelated entities with the obvious being the buildings, teaching staff, support staff, students, internet connectivity, values, purposes and reputation, and the non-obvious being the quality of the university roads, tidiness of classrooms, non-resident accommodation facilities, etc. I took a substantial amount of time to explain the non-obvious.
The sole purpose of a UNIVERSITY is not to win soccer tournaments, neither is it to transform itself into an artistically designed and fancy institution with glowing buildings nor is it to generate profits for its shareholders. It is to DISCOVER and PRESERVE KNOWLEDGE. The policies, strategies, profits (read funds), buildings, or anything in-between, are enablers towards achieving this sacred purpose.
A student at a university is expected at least to acquire the preserved knowledge that shall enable him/her to morph into a citizen with positive impact in society. He/she would be employable (either self-employed or corporately employed). Integrating a great number of such students with similar academic and other-useful attributes, it substantially and positively contributes to the university ranking (metric 2).
University administrators, for example bursars also contribute to the university ranking. Imagine a scenario. In a bid to regulate the financial flow of the university, the university council votes to cut allowances given to professors. A professor will be constrained to effectively perform her duties to prepare course material for a class, publish research findings or make a collaboration with an internationally renowned field-expert. This introduces unexpected problems into the student-professor academic relationship. The professor may think of other ways to creatively balance her duties, which is usually an ineffective balance. She would take less time, using divided attention to prepare courseware or conduct research. This would result into few and/or half hazed research publications (metric 1) and half-baked knowledge transferred to students.
Upon graduation, graduates do not find employment (metric 2). This, if not detected and mitigated early, introduces a negative vicious cycle according to Matthew’s principle, “For unto every one that have shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but him that have not shall be taken, even that which he have.” Matthew 25:29. The principle playing out in the negative sense. The university reputation may not attract international students and faculty staff (metric 4) which reduces the useful and curated diversity of faculty staff doing quality and impactful research (metric 1). The student/Faculty ratio drops to unimaginable levels (metric 3). With system thinking, the picture gets larger and uglier.
I have disciplined myself to tell a university student one or two words whenever I happen to have a chance to talk to one. I urge them to go the last mile and cease being pen-and-paper students, to be leaders of positive change. To my friend, I told him to be ‘Mak-er’, who builds for the future, one who makes a better society.
Friday 3rd Dec, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, the VC of Makerere University, the premier university of Africa, tweeted a paraphrased quote by the University Secretary. It was “We’re supposed to move away from the league of asking ourselves what’s our ranking on the continent, in the country, the world to ask ourselves what’s that in society which is attributed to Makerere university’s innovation and research”.
That message, if synthesized with system thinking, is not only to the academic staff and students, it equally applies to everyone be it an administrator, a college cleaner, or a night-time security guard. The purpose of a university is not to look at charts, it is to fulfill its sacred purpose, to be a leader and pioneer of societal positive change. With the sole and sacred purpose fulfilled, the chart figures fall into the right place. At Mak, everyone is a Mak-er.