6. World Class

World Class: Analytics, Hubris, or ?

 Scan this list of terms currently circulating in the higher education sector:
‘world-class’, ‘international excellence’, ‘mega’, ‘gold-standard’, ‘h-index’, ‘top-ranked’, ‘impact-factor’, ‘hottest’ – and we’re sure you can add to this list.

What connects them together? In some way or other they are referring to the best, the brightest, or the biggest – whether as a university, an academic researcher, or an academic publishing outlet.

Now, if you’re thinking these rather hubristic, ego-inflated terms are in overdrive, you’re right. But that is not to say they don’t have effects. This ramped-up language is transforming the landscape around knowledge production, circulation, and consumption in the higher education world, and what and who is to be valued.

The pace of change is nothing short of remarkable. Gone are the days when life within the university moved at a glacial pace and change came slowly (although, for sure, this still happens in both welcome and irritating ways). Even the language of university innovation and reform—‘incubators’, ‘accelerator funds’, ‘catapult’ and so on—as one of our former doctoral students Filip Vostal argues, captures something of this zeitgeist. 
Universities—and here we mean academics, administrators and students—are increasingly finding themselves pressed into action from multiple directions.  

Pages to Explore on this topic:
  1. Is This Hubris, or What?
  2. ‘Simply the best’- University Rankings
  3. Regulating the Rankers? - IREG
  4. Who Buys into Rankings, and Why?
  5. The Power of Rankings...and Their (Un)intended Outcomes
  6. ‘The Brightest’...Knowing your ‘H-Index’ ... 
  7. ‘The Biggest’ …Mega-journals, Open Access, and All That...
  8. Final Thoughts: New Divides, New possibilities, and Why These Matter…

Discussion Activity on this Topic

There are three main discussion exercise options this topic. The first two are focused topic discussions, while the third is an open-ended forum for discussing and debating any topic related to topic 6.

Option A: Debate – Is it Time to Govern the World University Rankers?  

Rankers have authored all aspects of the rankings process, and universities (not to mention associations of universities, and ministries of education) have simply handed over the raw data when asked. Observers of this process might be forgiven for thinking that universities have acquiesced to the private sector rankers’ desires with remarkably little thought. How and why we’ve ended up in such a state of affairs is a fascinating (if alarming) indicator of the self-centered nature of most universities (especially the elite universities, who do well in the rankings). It is also arguably a sign of how fearful many universities are of being erased from increasingly mediatized viewpoints, and how slow universities and governments have been in adjusting to the globalization of higher education and research, including what we have deemed the desectoralization process. This situation has some parallels with the ways that ratings agencies (e.g., Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s) have been able to operate over the last several decades.
Is it now time to ensure that world university rankers are overseen, if not governed, so as to achieve things like:
  • Free, open and timely access to the world university rankings data;
  • A say in when and how the rankings outcomes are released;
  • A say in who is permitted access to the base data;
  • A say in when and how errors are corrected in rankings-related publications, and then communicated;
  • A say in how university provided data is subsequently used;
  • Etc.?
If you think this is a bad or unrealistic idea, explain why, and for whom does it matter most.
If you think this is a good idea, explain why, and for whom does it matter most. Also outline how the university sector can practically move from the current situation (of rankers governing themselves, i.e. industry self-regulation) towards a more satisfactory situation.

Some reactions:

Option B: Playing the Citations and H-Index Game: Pros and Cons

The incentives to publish in highly ranked international refereed (IR) journals, generate a high citation impact and h-Index count, and to become (ideally) listed in the publisher's annual rankings of individual 'hottest researchers' is increasingly evident across the global higher education and research landscape.
  • What are the most important implications of this dynamic from the perspective researchers in the countries and higher education institutions you know best? For example, does it, in aggregate, elevate quality researchers and important knowledge, or does it skew behavior away from important but less high profile topics, generating self-serving academic capitalists?
  • Does it undermine more collaborative research efforts, or does it help enhance international collaborative opportunities as scholars look ‘abroad’ to generate more innovative projects, findings, and publications? What’s your view?! 
Some reactions:

Option C: Open Debate/General Discussion

Generate a discussion and debate about any aspect of this week’s content. Your task is to develop an insightful argument and/or develop an informed reaction to someone else’s posting.

Some reactions:

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