May 16, 2011
Angered that major international rankings of the world's best universities don't list any Latin American institution among their top 100 schools, several countries in the region have come up with a bizarre solution: create a regional index that will exclude the rest of the world.
Is this a good idea? Or will it only help Latin American governments avoid the embarrassment of performing poorly in international indexes, and will further isolate the region from the world scientific community?
Before we go to that, let's go to the facts. There are three major rankings of the world's best universities, done respectively in
The three rankings rely on several indicators, including academic peer reviews, number of students per faculty, surveys of students' employers, citations in scientific publications, and percentages of international professors and students in each school.
Critics say that these international rankings don't take into account Latin American universities' social work for the poor, and that they are biased in favor of English-speaking nations, because peer reviews are largely conducted with English-speaking academics, and because most academic publications are written in English.
In addition, Latin American universities tend to be much larger than those in other parts of the world, which hurts them in rankings that weigh in students-per-professor ratios, they say.
Asked about these criticisms,
As for the academic research papers, Baty conceded that most research papers written in English, but added that "we have to accept the reality that English is the global language of scholarly research these days."
My opinion: Critics may have a point in that existing international rankings don't take into account some characteristics of Latin American universities, such as their size or social responsibilities. But creating a regional ranking that will essentially help make the region's universities look good is a mistake.
Latin American universities' poor showing in global rankings is a continental scandal, because there is no way that the region will be able to compete in the global knowledge-based economy without world-class universities.
Instead of hiding from these rankings, the region should use them as a mobilizing factor to modernize and internationalize its schools, as is already happening in a few major universities in the region.
The fact that existing rankings may be biased in favor of English-speaking scholars should be no excuse: Chinese, Japanese and South Korean universities rank much higher, and their scholars were not born speaking English, nor using the Roman alphabet.
Doing the opposite will be the equivalent of withdrawing from the soccer World Cup to compete only within the neighborhood. It will be a recipe for complacency, which will leave the region on the sidelines of world scientific progress.
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(C) 2011 Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services