05 April 2008

Campus Asia

Campus Asia is a magazine from the Globe Media stable and is published by the Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) but it could also be titled "UPH Love Fest" or "What Makes UPH Indonesia's Best University?" or "Christian Education the Riady Way". There is not a lot about Asia! There are a few articles here and there about other Indonesian universities but only in support of a quite obvious agenda. I should add here that I am not so concerned about the agenda in this particular edition "National Education Reform" as this is something I am keen to see happen as well.

However, I do have a little bit of an issue with the reprinting of the recent Globe Asia's Guide to Indonesian Universities as this agenda is one where a clear statement of disclosure is needed as the rankings were done not on external factors or by an external agency but by Globe Asia which is part of the Riady family empire as is UPH. The piece ends with a statement to the effect that not everyone will agree with the rankings but that the factors used to rank will withstand scrutiny; "yeah, even if I do say so myself!"

UPH is ranked 2nd behind Universitas Indonesia (UI) and above Universitas Gajah Mada (UGM) and then a considerable distance above other perennial favourites in Indonesia like the Bandung Institute of Technology, Trisakti, Tarumanagara, Universitas Padjajaran, Universitas Atma Jaya, Universitas Parahyangan, Universitas Airlangga, and many others.

The real treat in these ranking systems is the skewing of them to incorporate holistic approaches and campus dynamism which UPH seems to excel at compared to other universities. A careful reading of the factors and the scores highlights that UPH is already Indonesia's best university. But it would seem that in order to make this look like a serious attempt at ranking Indonesia's universities there has been a section "Impact to Society" (I would have thought impact "on" society, but whatever) added. If this was not added then UPH would have crushed UI as Indonesia's best university by a total of 32 points. However, UI redeemed itself by outscoring UPH on things like 'influence on society', 'employability', and 'legacy and history'.

The rankings give an edge to universities with new facilities and to institutions that have lots of facilities. When one considers the amount of money being thrown at (invested) in UPH it is hardly surprising that it out ranks all comers in this category. The other category that UPH does well in is the international faculty rankings. This is also a result of a lot of money being spent on getting the faculty here in the first place. But hey, if you have the money then why not?

The reality is that if the Riady family sees this dream to fruition then it may well one day be Indonesia's best university and quite probably by a very wide margin unless some other rich people decide to invest in education in the way the Riady's have. But the claim to being Indonesia's second best university in 2008 is a little premature. If a more relevant and appropriate weighting was given to the holistic factors then UPH would rank much further down the list. It is worth noting that in most other university ranking systems the facilities component is weighted at about half of what it is in the Globe Asia rankings.

This post is not an attempt to discredit UPH or the education your kids might get if you can afford to send them there or they are lucky enough to get a scholarship or something, but rather it is an attempt to highlight a blatant conflict of interest and a classic example of self-promotion. I guess the Riady family did not get as wealthy as it did without a little bit of self-promotion but this is not the point. If you are going to post a university rankings list which you are promoting as authoritative then you should disclose that the rankings are something that you have come up with yourself!

My question is how do you say you are helping people to make an informed decision about university education when you are not being forthright about the underpinnings of those very rankings you promote. Nevertheless, even with the disclosure I would still find the rankings to be an anomaly to the real rankings that have been garnered by Indonesian universities under other ranking systems.

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