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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Not-so-robust rankings

The trouble with rankings is this: they are a dime a dozen, We make a big deal when we come up trumps and lament or argue when we are not, or have slipped a few places. Really, with so many think tanks, research firms and all sorts of consultancies coming out with rankings on happiness, products, service, tourist attractions, standard of living or what have you, which set of figures are we supposed to believe?

It all boils down to the credibility of the study and the people behind them; how the study is done and who is being surveyed. Sometimes rankings of one study appear to conflict with another similar one, and then you find out that there are one or two parameters that are different. Sometimes you realise that the survey is too small, the people surveyed are too narrow a group or worse, a group that would give a conclusion that is forgone. I mean, if you survey only business class travellers, then those airlines which actually treat economy class passengers as, well, passengers, might well be passed by.

The reader gets bombarded by one ranking or other almost every day – it’s like a staple newspaper item. I suppose  Singapore being Number 1 in whatever category gives us a sense of satisfaction. We can even start feeling smug. Banks, companies and PR firms flood the newsrooms with news of their rankings and awards as well – particularly if they are Number One. But before any unwary reader gets that wonderful feeling, the hope is that someone has done the work on whether the news is worth touting in the first place. Or is this some hackneyed research by some people hoping to get into the news…

Which is why I am puzzled by the Quacquarelli Symonds survey of universities in ST today. Thing is, its credibility is being questioned. It’s only two-years old. A newbie in the university ranking game. I wonder how the communications and media studies of NUS and NTU fared the last/first time the survey was done. NUS is now No. 3 and NTU at 23. Knowing past results would at least be a gauge of how seriously to treat this survey. I mean, maybe NUS was No. 23 and NTU was third….

What is the point of getting the university spokesmen on this matter? The higher placed one will support the ranking and the lower placed one would argue against. One expert said the better list to use is Shanghai Jiaotong University’s list, which uses publicly measurable research performance. Perhaps, before a survey, particularly a new one, makes it into print, a neutral expert or two should be called upon to advise on its credibility, and its publish-ability.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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