Date
13 December 2017
Retired professor Edward Chen (center) is flanked by two former students, Frederick Ma (right), who is council chairman of the Education University of Hong Kong, and former census and statistics chief Fung Hing-wang. Photo: HKEJ
Retired professor Edward Chen (center) is flanked by two former students, Frederick Ma (right), who is council chairman of the Education University of Hong Kong, and former census and statistics chief Fung Hing-wang. Photo: HKEJ

Top educator laments too much regard for university rankings

Universities that are too much concerned about their global rankings may end up losing more, a top educator says.

Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, 72, a retired economics professor who taught at the University of Hong Kong for many years and served as president of Lingnan University from 1995 to 2007, said he has noticed some universities, including those in Hong Kong, have taken rankings conducted by private institutions too seriously in recent years.

It is not the right thing to do because it would only encourage professors to spend most of their time writing theses and doing researches, resulting in inferior teaching quality and less interaction with their students, Chen said.

His remarks came after the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) was earlier this month accused of providing misleading information to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British firm that compiles the annual rankings of universities worldwide to serve as a guide on the quality of tertiary education in those institutions, so as to boost its university rankings, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

CityU, which saw it move from No. 57 in the 2015/16 academic year, to No. 55 in 2016/17, and to No. 49 in 2017/18 in the world rankings, had allegedly underreported its enrollment to QS, resulting in a lower student-to-faculty ratio, which is one of the most important criteria in the QS rankings.

It was also alleged that the university beat several top universities, such as Harvard and Cambridge, in the rankings after it paid huge fees to the ranking firm.

Chen said the blind pursuit of high rankings could weaken the bond between teachers and students because professors would spend more time on their own academic work.

Such a bond in Hong Kong universities is now harder to build and weaker than before, he said.

In his career in education, Chen had taught many students who later became important figures in various fields. They include Frederick Ma Si-hang, who is now council chairman of the Education University of Hong Kong, former census and statistics commissioner Fung Hing-wang, and former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, among others.

Chen is proud that he and his students still maintain a strong relationship even after so many years.

Meanwhile, Ma said it is understandable that some universities are eager to move up the global rankings because the higher place they are on the list, the more donations that are likely to get.

While admitting that the focus on rankings has become a trend, Ma said universities should strive to achieve a balance between their pursuit of higher rankings and teaching quality as well as teacher-student relationship.

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TL/JC/CG

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