The academe rat race
YESTERDAY, there was a big advertisement in the newspapers placed by HKPU’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management commemorating the School’s coming out second in the latest global ranking of Schools of Tourism by the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. The news was reported in many local newspapers.
YESTERDAY, I attended Chung Chi College’s 58th Founders’ Day thanksgiving ceremony. The main speech was delivered by Professor Rance Lee Pui Leung, former Head of Chung Chi, who retired last year after serving CUHK for over thirty years. He talked about his dreams for college life and college education, and lamented that in the last few years, fewer and fewer teaching colleagues had been able to involve themselves in college activities. The time they locked themselves up in their offices writing papers had increased, and so had their grievances. Life for them had become monotonous, in a never-ending struggle to satisfy the University’s ever-escalating appraisal requirements.
I salute Professor Rance Lee for his outspokenness.
I applaud the achievement of HKPU’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management. After all, their faculty must have put in huge efforts in research and publications to achieve the ranking.
But one must also ask a lot of questions, such as:
(a) What is the meaning of ranking itself? What is the difference between say Rank 3 and Rank 6? Is Rank 3 a ‘better’ School than Rank 6? If so, what is meant by ‘better’? What are the criteria being used in ranking the schools? Is there really such a thing as 100% objective ranking criteria? Is there such a thing as a 100% objective ranking process?
(b) What is the nature of the ranking organization? What is its motive in building a league table? Is there a chance that it is doing that to boost up its own status?
(c) What is the relevance of such rankings for the good of society?
(d) How might this whole business benefit the students?
(e) How should we make sense of such rankings? If School X, the former Rank 2, finding that its position has been taken by HKPU, doubles its effort so that in the next ranking, it regains Rank 2 pushing HKPU to Rank 3, is HKPU then doing worse? Should then HKPU re-re-double its effort so that it regains Rank 2 in the following year? And if it does, and then does regain Rank 2, should School X re-re-re-double its effort to get back its position?
A few days before YESTERDAY, over lunch with a long-time colleague, I happened to use the term ‘墮落‘ to describe academia, which in the last ten years has only been too keen to bury itself in competition after competition. I was amused that my colleague had had a similar idea.
Do we still care about the purpose of university education? Do we ever take a moment to think whether we are benefitting anyone with our research and publications? In fact, do we still enjoy our work? Do we still have a mission? Do we still believe that we are society’s conscience?
Or have we already accepted that there is no such thing as purpose or meaning, so that all we need to do is to join the dog fight and the rat race?
But aren’t two things obvious enough?:
(1) If we are forever obsessed with a competition mentality, then remember: It will be a race with no finishing line.
(2) We can all ‘win’, without ‘beating’ others.
Beginning about twenty years ago, most countries in the world suddenly saw the need to increase the number of their universities, to raise their economic competitiveness in the global market. But these governments hardly had enough funds, or were unwilling to invest enough funds, to back up the sudden expansion. Hence, while previously respecting universities’ autonomy after funding them was the norm (compare Governments funding the judiciary but refraining from bossing them around), governments began to adopt an economic, competitive, approach, in financing tertiary education to (a) cut costs, and (b) impose their agendas on universities. This triggered a plethora of new policies at different levels that gradually led to the situation we have today: university administrators becoming CEOs instead of scholarly leaders; innumerable rankings and league tables; never-ending external and internal audits; ever-escalating performance appraisal standards; widening chasms between the work of research and the actual needs of society (with Education being one perfect example); and vanishing teacher-student relationships.
Hence, I am not singling out HKPU’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management. After all, there are so many such league tables and competitions in academia already. But I am deeply concerned that universities around the world and the thousands of academics who work in them, are not critically aware enough of the path that we are going down. Or perhaps we have the awareness, but (a) want to exploit the situation for our own benefits, (b) feel powerless to do anything about it, or (c) have lost hope already.
We need not do away with all competitions and evaluations. But we need to ask ourselves time and again when we are engaged in academe competitions, evaluations, and appraisals:
(a) At what costs?
(b) What for?
The post above was written on the day before yesterday. Today, I came across the following extract in an article by 左丁山 in Apple Daily, on the ranking criteria currently applied in the UK:
(…) 現代體育向錢看，教育何嘗不然。睇吓《金融時報》嘅 EMBA排名榜，香港科技大學與美國西北大學合辦嘅課程係世界第一，排名榜之一個重要準則就係畢業生人工夠高，加薪幅度夠大，仲唔係向錢看？讀 EMBA唔會追求學術，只為追求一張沙紙，一年多嘅嚴格商業教育，為咗有一張沙紙令自己搵工易啲，薪水多啲，純粹係向錢看行為。想唔到嘅係，英國「就業和技能委員會」發表報告，英國大學排名制度嘅標準，應該按學生滿意度、學校輟學人數與畢業生收入高低，來決定學校與課程嘅排名，學校須要與社會配合，開辦課程切合僱主的需要，以獲得更高評分。嘩嘩嘩，咁嘅排名方法，英國大學咪變成職業訓練學校？人人讀律師、會計師、金融等科目，排名實高啦，文學戲劇歷史哲學系可以收檔，假如香港有呢類報告，一定有大量文化左派齊齊炮轟，不過係英國報告噃，或者有人要求香港跟風呢？