The Star (Nairobi)

10 July 2014

Kenyan Universities Perform Poorly in Global Rankings

A look at the Kenyan universities vision and mission statements reveals one thing -- they all want to attain a world class status. This is not a situation unique to Kenyan universities alone, but rather, of universities throughout the world.

To help universities gauge their competitiveness and place in the world, various ranking firms have sprang up in an attempt to rank the universities. Some of the most known and widely used ranking platforms are the Shanghai Jiatao ranking of world universities, and the Webometrics ranking.

The ranking criteria also varies, although the most notable criteria is the quality of incoming freshmen, as depicted in grades and aptitude test scores, quality of the faculty as depicted by the quality of their research, how often the faculty work is published and cited in scholarly journals, and other awards and prizes that the students and faculty have won.

Even then, one of the most notable ranking criteria is the level of success of former students, as well as their diversity and mix.

While the major ranking firms release annual rankings, the webometrics ranking releases a bi annual ranking, in January and in July.

However, while the webometrics platform takes into consideration the other ranking criteria as the above, it particularly pays attention to universities presence in the web.

Its aim is to encourage universities to publish more of their research findings online, and disseminate the same to society. It is no wonder that many universities in Africa have lagged behind in this ranking, as many have not fully utilized the potential of the internet to help spread the brand name of the university.

For instance, it is harder to access many of our universities published works online. The better a university is ranked globally, the better it is able to attract highly talented student and faculty from its home country and also from around the world. This in turn increases the research output which increases the research funding from donors.

The students from the universities, many of them the best students in their home regions or countries, are then able to rise to positions of influence within the corporate world or in governments, and contribute back to the university through donations and endowments, which creates a self sustaining cycle of success.

The Webometrics study assesses about 12,000 universities globally and positions are awarded based on how well they adopt modern research, teaching, and academic publishing methods and how easily this information is accessible online.

"A reliable rank is only possible if the web presence is a trustworthy mirror of the university and in the second decade of the 21st century, the Web is key for the future of all the university missions," the bi-annual report notes.

However, not all university heads agree on the large scale ranking of universities globally, especially given that the environments the universities operate in are unique in their contexts.

Speaking to the Business Daily last year, Dr Edward Mungai, a senior lecturer at the Strathmore Business School, cautioned that care needs to be exercised when analyzing these rankings since they "do not represent the holistic review" of any institution.

"Ranking of universities is important but doing so using the level of visibility on the Internet could be erroneous," said Dr Mungai, who is the former Strathmore Business School- SBS dean.

"The question is how valuable is this ranking when weighted against other more tangible aspects of an institution."

Some education experts allege that Kenyan universities have in the past two years gone big on physical expansion, opening several constituent colleges without a commensurate spend on academic staffing and learning resources such as libraries and labs, and this is the reason many have ranked low globally.

Even as the universities expand, the only assurance of ranking highly in Kenya, the region, and globally, is a commitment to first rate quality at all costs.

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