A Vice-Chancellor on University Rankings

I couldn’t resist sharing this clip of Nobel Laureate and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, Brian Schmidt giving it to the university rankings system with both barrels. The whole video is quite long but the link hopeully takes you to the point where Brian takes aim:

If it doesn’t jump to about 23.28 please go there manually using the slider or try this link.

There are two important points to amplify here. One is a lesson I learned in my own brief time as sort of Senior Management at Sussex, which is that rankings are not just “important” in such circles: they are literally the only thing that drives decision-making. The reason for that is something Brian touches upon, namely that most Vice-Chancellors are driven by their own ambitions more than they are by the good of education and research. Those that think this way want to make sufficient impact on the league table position of their University so by the end of their period of tenure they will be in line for a more prestigious job with an even higher salary. Not every VC thinks like this of course – Brian for one certainly doesn’t – but those that do are in the majority. That’s why so many institutions are driven by short-term decision-making in a way that reminds me of a warship, forever steering towards the last fall of shot.

In my view the pathological obsession with rankings is at least in part a symptom. The underlying cause is this group of management types who know little about and care little for what the purpose of academia actually is. In my opinion the quickest way to improve universities worldwide is to eliminate these Leadership positions and instead have Vice Chancellors or Presidents or Whatever They’re Called and simply have leaders elected by the academics of the institution from among their ranks.

3 Responses to “A Vice-Chancellor on University Rankings”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    It doesn’t whisk you to the part you mean. You need to add at the end of the URL “&t=****s” where the asterisks denote how many seconds into the video this part begins. This might work only if you have the shortest version of the URL, not a version with lots of search parameters which got you to the main video in the first place.

    Please do this as I’m pretty keen to see it!

    Who owns your work is an amusing question. I wonder how many academics keep their startups confidential from their universities.

    • I did include that but I don’t think the WordPress embed video gizmo allows it. Anyway you can go to 23.28 manually if you want to see it.

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