CityU said to have shrunk student numbers to boost QS rankings

November 13, 2017 15:16
CityU is said to have submitted inaccurate information to Quacquarelli Symonds to boost its rankings. Photo: Internet

City University of Hong Kong has been accused of providing misleading information to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) to boost its university rankings.

Apple Daily said a review of the QS university rankings over the past three years showed that CityU has shrunk its student population by 14.7 percent from 2015 and 27.4 percent from 2016.

Around 30.4 percent of the students have gone “missing” if compared to the records with the University Grants Committee (UGC), which holds the statistics on student intake in all the eight government-funded universities.

QS is a British firm that compiles the annual rankings of universities worldwide, which serves as a guide on the quality of tertiary education in those institutions.

One of the most important criteria in the QS rankings is the ratio of teachers to students, which means the student population of a particular university is of utmost importance in the calculation.

The lower the ratio of students to the faculty, the better is the quality of teaching, it is assumed; the teachers supposedly could focus more on their students if they are dealing with a smaller class size. 

According to the QS standards, the number of students as provided by CityU should be no less than what appears in the records of UGC, which only count students who are subsidized by the government.

Senior officials from other local universities interviewed by the newspaper said some people in the tertiary education sector have had suspicions that data submitted by CityU as regards its student population may be inaccurate.

The university could possibly have counted students on a "snapshot" day, such as during summer when graduates are leaving and new students have yet to arrive.

If such is the case, then about 20-30 percent of the students are not included in the count of the number of students enrolled in the university in a given academic year.

Apple Daily said it has been told that at least two universities have complained about this to the QS.

In the academic year 2015-2016, the student population at CityU has been recorded at 20,000, including all undergraduates and postgraduates.

The CityU administration is understood to have discussed the accusations in a meeting on Oct. 19, during which the secretary to the university council and director of the university's Institutional Research Office Kevin Downing explained that he submitted the figures to the QS after the university had processed them.

Professor Kuo Way, the university's vice chancellor, reportedly did not explain during the meeting why the figures failed to match those in the UGC records.

But he is said to have assured other CityU officials that none of the data had been falsified.

Asked for comments, a spokesperson for the university told Apple Daily that the student-teacher ratio is not the only basis for calculating the quality of teaching at CityU.

The spokesperson also denied that the student count was made during summer, adding that the QS employs independent firms to verify the data submitted by universities.

Kuo Way has also asked an independent firm to review the CityU figures.

QS has yet to reply to Apple Daily queries as to whether it has received complaints about the data submitted by Hong Kong universities, but stressed that it has yet to find any incorrect or dishonest information from the data it has received.

A QS spokesperson stressed that they have zero tolerance for any cheating in the rankings, and if they have discovered any sort of dishonesty, they would cancel this year’s rankings.

CityU Student Union chairperson Chan Ngok-lam said he has also heard about the alleged data manipulation, but has not received an answer from the officials concerned.

He urged the university to come clean on the controversy.

Choy Ki from the Progressive Lawyers Group pointed out that if the number of students that CityU handed in to QS “reflects the truth”, meaning it has indeed taken a "snapshot" during the school year, then it did not provide any false information.

However, if there is an unfairness in the situation, it should be monitored by QS, and thus the organization should be put under scrutiny for accepting such information, he said, suggesting that the rankings may no longer be trustworthy.

CityU has been up in the world rankings from No. 57 in the 2015/16 academic year, to No. 55 in 2016/17, and to No. 49 in 2017/18.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was in 28th place in 2015/16, dropped to No. 36 in 2016/17 and surged to No. 30 in 2017/18.

The University of Hong Kong ranked 30th in 2015/16, climbed up to No. 27 in 2016/17, and No. 26 in 2017/18.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong Christian was No. 51 in 2015/16, surged to 44th place in 2016/17, and slipped to No. 46 in 2017/18.

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