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World Uni Rankings: Ensuring a good job, or a good education?

Sumisha Naidu

Thu Sep 29 2011


Photo: shho

AUSTRALIA’S prestigious G8 universities are among the top 100 universities in the world, according to this year’s Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.

The Australian National University (ANU), the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, Monash University, the University of Queensland, the University of Western Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Adelaide have all made it onto the list, potentially cementing their place in Australia’s “Ivy League”.

But university rankings have come under the fire in recent years with critics, including the European Union, questioning every aspect of the process from methodology to assessment criteria. Even though the University of Melbourne is the second highest ranking Australian university on the QS list at number 32, it is the same university whose subject cuts and program overhauls inspired students to stage a theatrical protest via the production, Melbourne Model: The Musical. On the other hand, despite having a campus and facilities that could put most G8 members to shame, Macquarie University sits at a lowly 21 on the QS list.

Rankings aren’t always comprehensive either as they often don’t take into account the specialities of different universities. For example, QS provides rankings for the best universities in disciplines such as sociology, political and international studies and accounting and finance but not for courses such as journalism, as international student Jessie Schanzle found out. After unsuccessfully searching for university rankings for journalism courses in Australia online, she resorted to friends’ reccommendations of universities and her own research instead, to decide.

“Really what I was referring to was the course guides that I could find online rather than the international rankings and comparing it to course guides to similar programs in the States (where I’m from) to see if I would be getting the same calibre of education,” she says.

Examples like these demonstrate the difficulty of defining what makes a “good” university, let alone ranking them, and have contributed to the discussion surrounding the reliability of world rankings. The fact remains, however, that there are still students who refer to them – including international students as a recent poll by i-Graduate has shown. The ability for world rankings to be a drawing card for international students is well-recognised by universities as well. One only need visit the “International student” pages of the Monash and Flinders University websites to see their respective world rankings proudly displayed there for prospective students.

Why do rankings matter to international students?

For some, enrolling in a high-ranking university may be a reflection of their academic success in high school, as world rankings are traditionally viewed as an indicator of a university’s academic prestige. Also, parents often spend exorbitant amounts of money to give their children an international education and knowing universities are highly ranked may give them the peace of mind that their money is well spent.

From a practical standpoint, selecting a university to study at overseas is hard when one has never been to its campus or its host country. For international students, world rankings may make the choice considerably easier. Similarly, they may simply feel that it’s not worth their while to go to a university that is not “recognised” by employers in their home country. Why spend thousands of dollars overseas to get a degree from a university that no one has heard of, especially when you’re from a country like Singapore whose government doesn’t provide a list of accredited overseas universities but recognises the employer as being “in the best position to decide how much value he will assign to a person’s qualification”. If a university is a rankings list, students could be using this to increase the “value” of their qualification to an employer.

But are university rankings actually a concern for employers – or is this an urban legend?

Does a company actually look at the alma mater of an applicant when trying to determine whether or not to employ them?

Yes and no, says Natalie Wong from KPMG Malaysia.

“To a certain extent, most employers would take note of the ranking/reputation of a job applicant’s university but that is usually not the key criteria for selection,” she says.

“In KPMG, a job applicant’s academic achievement is one of the essential criteria for selection. We also value the job applicant’s active participation in extra co-curricular activities, especially involvement in [regular] positions.”

“Another area that we would pay attention to during selection is the job applicant’s soft skills – communication skills, team working skills, leadership skills, and other attributes that are applicable to the position that he/she is being considered for.”

A partner at a major law firm with branches in both Malaysia and Singapore, who has chosen to remain unnamed, has a similar viewpoint.

“Well, I personally do not judge based on the university you come from or your results only,” she says.

“Even if you come from the best university and have brilliant results, I must like your personality and attitude.

“Some of my partners, however, are very concerned about these things. They get very excited about people from Oxford and so on and will pick people from these universities even if the results of someone from a lesser ranked university are better.”

But ultimately, she says that university rankings do not necessitate a good employer, as she found out after employing someone from a prestigious university as well as someone from a university with a “bad reputation”.

“The Oxford student had a real attitude. He expected to be treated like he was special without working for it,” she says.

“The other one, however, was good – in fact very good. He had the right attitude and worked very hard.”

From these observations, at least, it seems that where someone gets their qualifications from does matter to an extent to employers – but not at the expense of being a well-rounded individual. Coming from a high-ranking university may get you into the next  round of applications but after that it’s all down to what you, and not your university, can bring to the table.

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