Univer­sity prospec­tuses mis­lead stu­dents

The Jakarta Post - - OPINION - Said Iran­doust

Rapidly grow­ing economies, a large youth pop­u­la­tion and rapid ex­pan­sion of the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has led to in­creased com­pe­ti­tion and greater fo­cus on mar­ket­ing for many uni­ver­si­ties. This has also led to con­cerns that prospec­tive stu­dents are not get­ting the rel­e­vant and un­bi­ased in­for­ma­tion they need be­fore de­cid­ing where to study.

An anal­y­sis of univer­sity prospec­tuses re­veals that some uni­ver­si­ties’ claims may be spu­ri­ous, mis­lead­ing and down­right fic­ti­tious. These uni­ver­si­ties de­ploy se­lec­tive data, flat­ter com­par­i­son and some­times even out­right false­hoods in their prospec­tuses to ex­ag­ger­ate their char­ac­ter or achieve­ments. They at­tempt to bend the facts to a break­ing point to ap­peal to ap­pli­cants.

There are a num­ber of clearly mis­lead­ing claims in sev­eral univer­sity in­for­ma­tion ma­te­ri­als. One such a claim is that of an in­ter­na­tional univer­sity. To­day, any univer­sity can de­cide to name it­self “in­ter­na­tional” and so-called in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties are mush­room­ing.

This is a se­ri­ous is­sue af­fect­ing the destiny of thou­sands of stu­dents every year who be­lieve they are en­ter­ing a truly in­ter­na­tional univer­sity. They are many times un­aware of what these uni­ver­si­ties mean with be­ing in­ter­na­tional. Is it only a mat­ter of hav­ing English as the lan­guage of in­struc­tion? Or does a univer­sity be­come in­ter­na­tional just by hav­ing one or two Western­ers nicely fea­tured in the prospec­tuses?

Be­ing an in­ter­na­tional univer­sity means putting in place pro­cesses that help uni­ver­si­ties im­prove the qual­ity of their ed­u­ca­tion, re­search and ser­vices to so­ci­ety. It is a long jour­ney of qual­ity devel­op­ment that re­quires lots of hard work, ded­i­cated time and re­sources. It is noth­ing a new univer­sity can just be born with.

There are also sig­nif­i­cant gaps in many cases in re­la­tion to, for ex­am­ple, qual­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els of lec­tur­ers, spe­cific long-term prospects, such as fu­ture in­come and em­ploy­ment that re­sult from choice of univer­sity.

An in­ter­na­tional univer­sity ap­plies best in­ter­na­tional prac­tices in gover­nance, in teach­ing and learn­ing ap­proaches, in in­ter­cul­tural col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search and devel­op­ment (R&D)and in in­ter­na­tional ex­change of ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences. Truly in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties are in­vest­ing in re­cruit­ing in­ter­na­tional staff and stu­dents and in col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search with two or more coun­tries.

In­ter­na­tional con­tent and per­spec­tive, cross-cul­tural col­lab­o­ra­tion with global per­spec­tive brought in by in­ter­na­tional staff and stu­dents will also help raise in­ter­na­tional aware­ness of stu­dents and en­cour­age them to think out­side their own nar­row frames of ref­er­ences.

The sad story of mis­lead­ing stu­dents doesn’t end here. In a re­cent case, a new pri­vate In­done­sian univer­sity boasted on so­cial me­dia that one of its study pro­grams was listed as one of the “five top bach­e­lor de­grees in world”. The univer­sity failed to in­form the pub­lic that the re­ferred source of in­for­ma­tion came from a bi­ased source. The re­cent set­tle­ment of US$25 mil­lion by Trump Univer­sity with the stu­dents it cheated is an­other ex­am­ple.

It is not un­com­mon for uni­ver­si­ties to use their stu­dents and staff to make nice and sup­port­ive state­ments in their in­for­ma­tion ma­te­rial. These stu­dents and staff are in a de­pen­dency sit­u­a­tion and may not be able to main­tain an un­bi­ased ap­proach when be­ing used as mar­ket­ing tools for their uni­ver­si­ties.

With stu­dents con­sum­ing in­creas­ing amounts of mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als when choos­ing a univer­sity, it is more im­por­tant than ever that they have ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion. Univer­sity in­for­ma­tion ma­te­ri­als are dif­fer­ent and may not be reviewed crit­i­cally be­cause uni­ver­si­ties are seen as trust­wor­thy schol­arly places, where, if they give out in­for­ma­tion, it will be facts.

Be­cause choos­ing a univer­sity is so im­por­tant to stu­dents and be­cause uni­ver­si­ties should as­pire to high eth­i­cal and schol­arly stan­dards, these is­sues are very se­ri­ous. Uni­ver­si­ties and their peo­ple need to be re­spon­si­ble about what they say, just as with an aca­demic pub­li­ca­tion.

To pro­tect prospec­tive stu­dents, prospec­tuses and all other in­for­ma­tion ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing so­cial me­dia-based in­for­ma­tion, should be crit­i­cally checked by the Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Agency for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The agency should not al­low the use of the term “in­ter­na­tional univer­sity/in­sti­tute” with­out a proper as­sess­ment.

Uni­ver­si­ties should be asked to first ex­plain what they mean by be­ing in­ter­na­tional and to demon­strate how by be­ing so-called in­ter­na­tional their over­all qual­ity will be en­hanced. The as­sess­ment in­stru­ment should in­clude anal­y­sis of key pa­ram­e­ters such as per­cent­age of in­ter­na­tional staff, per­cent­age of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, com­mit­ment to in­ter­na­tional re­search, ex­tent of univer­sity/in­sti­tute pub­li­ca­tions with coau­thors from two or more coun­tries, qual­ity of teach­ing and learn­ing in terms of global per­spec­tive/global qual­ity stan­dard, qual­ity of univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tion in terms of ap­ply­ing best in­ter­na­tional prac­tices, qual­ity of in­ter­na­tional stu­dent ser­vices and sup­port, qual­ity of teach­ing and learn­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and in­ter­na­tional pres­ence of the univer­sity at large, etc.

In con­clu­sion, uni­ver­si­ties should not fall into the temp­ta­tion to use seem­ingly at­trac­tive but vague terms, but fo­cus on the qual­ity of what they are do­ing and what they are of­fer­ing. Our uni­ver­si­ties should have higher eth­i­cal stan­dards than mar­ket­ing in gen­eral. They of­fer an ex­pen­sive prod­uct that can­not be tried be­fore be­ing bought. They are ap­peal­ing to a “po­ten­tially vul­ner­a­ble group”; and their “sta­tus and rep­u­ta­tion in so­ci­ety” is based on “high stan­dards of schol­ar­ship.”

They should pro­vide prospec­tive stu­dents with fac­tual in­for­ma­tion about their of­fer­ings and the true sta­tus and qual­ity of their pro­grams. Fail­ing in these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is a se­ri­ous mis­con­duct, risk­ing not only the pub­lic trust in uni­ver­si­ties but also the fu­ture of mil­lions of stu­dents world­wide. The writer was pres­i­dent of Asian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Thai­land, pres­i­dent of Bo­ras Univer­sity in Swe­den and vice pres­i­dent of Chalmers Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy of Swe­den. He is a pro­fes­sor in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Chalmers Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Swe­den.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Indonesia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.