[VIEWPOINT]To be ranked globally, start locally

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[VIEWPOINT]To be ranked globally, start locally

A list of the “Top 100 Global Universities” has been published on MSNBC’s Web site. The ranking, formulated by Newsweek magazine, did not include any Korean universities. The voices of self-reflection have grown louder in academia here, but there is no reason to be surprised. Korean universities get little recognition from other foreign media every time they publish such rankings. The bigger problem is that there are scarce chances to improve the situation.
Our universities toil under inferior conditions compared to universities in advanced countries. Investment in higher education in Korea is less than half of that of advanced countries and Korean universities are strictly bound by government regulations. Nevertheless, it is problematic that the country which has the 12th-biggest economy in the world does not have one university on the list of “Top 100 Global Universities.” We have overlooked one thing in the past. It is the lack of ratings here of universities. In any field, the ratings stimulate and increase competitiveness. In this era of global competition, almost every country in the world is trying to strengthen the evaluation system of its universities and other higher educational institutes. About 60 countries, including the United States and Japan, maintain systems to guarantee the quality of higher education. Most of the countries that adopt such a system make public the evaluation results to education consumers, namely students and businesses. Sometimes, the results are directly related to the financial assistance to the university.
Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provided a global standard of accreditation of higher education, the so-called “UNESCO-OECD Guideline” for quality assurance of higher education. As the volume of cross-border exchanges in higher education increases with the expansion of free trade agreements and regional cooperation, it has become more necessary for the quality of university education to be regulated for its consumers.
That has led to the strengthening of higher education evaluation systems and made the exchange of related information compulsory. Compared to the strict evaluation system adopted by advanced countries, our university evaluation system is in name only. The Korean Council for University Education evaluates universities and university departments every five to seven years under the commission of the government, but the evaluation is very loose. The results of the evaluation are made public only in a nutshell and related information is seldom publicized.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development has belatedly presented a bill to evaluate higher education. The goal is to establish a “Higher Education Evaluation Board,” with a world-class higher education quality control system. But the bill is adrift in the National Assembly. The bigger problem is the opposition against such an evaluation system, which has spread throughout our academic community. When the university council completed evaluations in 2003, some universities and departments were omitted due to a lack of cooperation. This year, there are departments that not only refuse to be evaluated by the council or by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Education and the Board of Nursing Science Evaluation. Seoul National University has even refused to get a general evaluation.
Universities claim “Current evaluation methods are not reliable, because they use standardized quantity evaluation systems without considering the special character of each university.” Moreover, as there is no duty for them to be subject to such evaluations and the results are not linked to financial support from the government, they may think there is no reason to undergo such evaluations. And some people say that the evaluation fixes the ranking of universities. However, would it really bring such effects? If there were no evaluations, the rankings that universities earned by their reputations would be permanent. On the contrary, an evaluation system would highlight the differences between universities that had become lazy while enjoying their old fame and those making a lot of effort.
The fact that the university evaluation that the JoongAng Ilbo has carried out for the past 13 years has created an atmosphere of bona fide competition and has brought changes in the universities demonstrates it clearly. The students of universities that participate in evaluation enthusiastically get benefits in various ways.
First, the quality of education grows. The universities and departments that get higher ratings say it improves their reputations. Samsung Electronics gives priority to applicants who graduate from universities accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Education when it recruits employees. Likewise, more and more businesses pay attention to the results of university evaluation. To the contrary, if we continue to go without a proper evaluation system, it will certainly become an obstacle for our further development in this era of globalization. Korean students will be disadvantaged when they seek a job at foreign businesses or go abroad for further studies, because they are not graduates of globally recognized universities. While the number of students who go abroad for further studies increases, bright foreign students will shun Korean universities. The loss from this will be borne by our universities and society.
Our universities know this very well. Then, why do they refuse to get evaluation? Some people say “Universities refuse to be evaluated because they worry they will lose face or become restructured if they get a bad evaluation.” If that is the reason, they are really egotistical.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Day-young
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