RANKING education rankles for two reasons. One, education is fast becoming a cutthroat business because of it. Two, ranking education has become an industry unto itself.
Blame it on two 20th century words — “excellence” and “world-class”. At one time, not long ago, every university — and even training centre — rushed to set up “Centres of Excellence” as if you can turn campuses into factories that produce tubes that can squeeze “excellence” as you would some paste.
Some Malaysian universities, having caught this fever, continue to host such centres. Neither excellence nor world-class has come their way.
But first, can education be measured in this way? And, what are we measuring, really? To measure anything, let alone education, we must know its purpose.
Only then we can “measure” it and say it is this or that. But there are things in human life that cannot be measured.
The rise and rapid fall of the bell curve that attempted to measure human performance is one example. But that is a Leader for another time.
Here and now, the question is: what really is the purpose of education? We advance an answer. Education is the process by which the intellect and heart acquire knowledge, with the end purpose of creating a good man.
Such an education teaches us about who we are, how we should live our lives, what other life forms share this Earth with us and how we should treat them. Granted, these are big questions, but a complete education must perforce answer them.
Disturbingly, modern education does not do this well, if it does it at all. To a large extent, our universities send us out of the campus gates with an incomplete education. And an unbalanced one at that.
Because they provide medicine only for the mind, leaving the heart unattended. Most of the ills of the world, if not all, can be traced to untutored hearts.
World wars, genocides, climate change and racism emanate from disturbed hearts, if not troubled minds.
Even Covid-19 can be traced to an unbalanced education that pays no heed to other life forms. A tutored heart would know better to leave wildlife in the wild.
To count such an unbalanced education isn’t a measure for measure. But that is not what rankles most. It is the placing of profit before people and other life forms.
The sad thing is that the profit chase isn’t just happening in the market for goods. It has infiltrated the realm of knowledge providers.
Not wanting to be outdone, public universities, with reduced funds, are running the rat race, too, through league tables. Top 10, Top 50, Top 100 and what have you are beginning to read like pop charts, only that these are not music to the ears.
The rat race hasn’t stopped there. Much to their displeasure, the rankers are made to run their own rat race, too.
What started as two — Times Higher Education and QS — has now grown to more than what we can count with our fingers.
There is even a Shanghai 500. Money, it seems, has a way of making one beat a path to the market. Do not get us wrong.
We are not against measuring. As they say, what gets measured gets done. But how do you count what lies lodged in the mind and heart? The league tables have no answer.