03 March 2008

UPH and the University Ranking System

The simple question that a recent ranking of Indonesia's universities in a recent issue of Globe Asia Magazine raises is Universitas Pelita Harapan (Pelita Harapan University / UPH) really the second best public or private university in Indonesia?

This is a more interesting question when one considers that the Globe Asia Magazine is part of the once again burgeoning Lippo Group which is the conglomerate established by the Riady family (perhaps in another post I will write on the Clinton / Arkansas connections) and which also just happens to be the family responsible for the establishment and development of UPH.

There is an obvious potential conflict of interest here and the cynics among us might even write the rankings off as a brazen marketing ploy to attract more high fee-paying students to the campus with the illusion of greatness.

To be fair to UPH, it will eventually become one of Indonesia's premier universities, if not the premier university in Indonesia, particularly if the Riady family continue to invest heavily in it. I have had the good fortune of going and checking out their facilities, particularly the Faculty of Law. The library is already an imposing entity and one that many of Indonesia's more established universities should be envious of, facilities wise.

However, a university when it is all said and done is as much about the academic staff that work there and the quality of the research that they produce. The rankings gave a much-reduced weighting to these key indicators than it did to facilities. For example facilities were weighted at 16% with staff and research weighted at a mere 9% and 7%. On these fronts a number of other Indonesian universities would surely rank higher than UPH at this stage of UPH's development.

The fact that UPH out-ranked some of Indonesia's more established and highly regarded universities such as Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), Atma Jaya, and Universitas Parahyangan (Unpar) was surprising. Perhaps what was most surprising was that the ranking is probably a little premature and unwarranted at this point in time.

Education is a business and good reviews are important to attracting the best and brightest. In simple economic terms this was an exercise in self-promotion. Some will be critical of the method employed by the Lippo Group to promote UPH. However, as a promotional tool is has worked, because people are talking about university education in Indonesia in general and specific terms. And, this is a good thing!

But never underestimate the consumer and when you have to pay big money for a university education you become a much more cost-conscious consumer. A good review is not the be all to end all of a decision, give consumers of higher education the benefit of doubt here that they are a little more discerning than reading a good review as being reason enough to throw their hard-earned cash at UPH for an education.

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