Liz Reisberg complains about the importance stakeholders outside the academy give to one-dimensional research-oriented rankings in their eager search for the best universities in her recent blog on “Rankings and Quality”. Frank van Vught and Frank Ziegele’s responded in their blog, “A Ranking to Fit Individual Needs”, that describes a most welcome initiative – the U-Multirank—to overcome some of the flaws in the indicators and to produce more valuable information. They point out that the U-Multirank addresses a multiplicity of higher education dimensions (such as, teaching and learning, knowledge transfer, internationalization, and regional engagement) and research. In addition, and most importantly, users can select which areas of performance to include when comparing their choice of universities.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the U-Multirank includes data on some Latin American (LA) universities. Unfortunately, information for non-research indicators is only available from a few Chilean and Brazilian universities. I will address whether more LA universities will be able to participate in this interesting and essential initiative in the near future.
A project with similar goals is INFOACES (Integrated Information System for Higher Education Institutions in Latin American for the Common Higher Education Area with Europe) funded within the ALFA program by the European Commission. The network is comprised of 33 partners from 23 countries (18 in Latin America and 5 in Europe) and is coordinated by the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
Along the same line as U-Multirank is the quite remarkable and innovative, “Comparative study of Mexican universities” (EXECUM), a database produced by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and available at: http://www.execum.unam.mx/. There, users can obtain comparative information on Mexican universities with respect to teaching, research, financing and more detailed results related to Mexican quality assurance policy (such which programs have been accredited) and the number of researchers registered with the National System of Researchers (SNI). As often happens with Latin American institutions in the U-Multirank, the EXECUM contains areas and fields of study with somewhat detailed information (science and technology) while other fields offer considerably less information (for example, the higher education teaching process and output).
In particular, information concerning teaching outputs and funding requested by the U-Multirank institutional questionnaire is quite difficult to obtain from many Latin American universities. For example, in Argentina, although we estimate that the number of incoming students enrolled in international exchange programs has increased significantly over the last decade, reliable information, especially from public universities, is unavailable. Neither do we have data on the total number of degrees awarded within the standard period, nor the percentage of graduates that are pursuing further education, employed or in training two years after graduation. These data are mostly unavailable in Latin America with the exception of, perhaps, some Chilean institutions). Finally, it is unclear how funding to Latin American universities is actually allocated between research, teaching and knowledge transfer activities.
The difficulty for Latin American institutions to collect these data and follow international indicators certainly does not imply that they cannot be part of the U-Multirank tool for improving transparency in higher education in the future. To achieve this goal, it would also be important for governments in the region to support this innovative enterprise, encouraging universities—via funding mechanisms and other incentives—to produce a basic system of performance indicators and publish them on a regular basis. Information on the educational system should be considered an obligation of higher education if it is indeed a public good (non-excludable and non-rival). It is unlikely that each LA university will independently and willingly collect and disseminate data with the necessary quantity and quality to satisfy this social demand for better higher education statistics or, especially, sustain a routine of consistent data collection on teaching, learning output and internationalization of higher education institutions, but this is certainly needed.
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