With prej­u­dice

Academia’s global ‘caste sys­tem’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - David.matthews@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Aca­demics need to ask them­selves whether they dis­crim­i­nate against over­seas schol­ars on the ba­sis of their home coun­try, ac­cord­ing to a re­searcher who found ev­i­dence of a “caste sys­tem” in global academia.

Ger­man pro­fes­sors were far more likely to re­spond to a re­quest for doc­toral su­per­vi­sion from US univer­sity-based re­searchers than those from Sin­ga­pore and Viet­nam, even if the Asian uni­ver­si­ties were more highly ranked, an ex­per­i­ment found.

Nearly 400 so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sors were sent iden­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions, all with eth­nic Chi­nese- sound­ing names, pur­port­ing to be from Yale Univer­sity, Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore or Viet­nam Na­tional Univer­sity, Hanoi.

Fifty-one per cent of Yale can­di­dates re­ceived a pos­i­tive re­sponse, com­pared with 43.4 per cent for Penn State, 30 per cent for NUS and 29 per cent for VNU.

US-based can­di­dates were nearly three times more likely to be given ex­tra in­for­ma­tion in their re­sponse, such as grad­u­ate school sug­ges­tions, and more than twice as likely to re­ceive an en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse or to be ad­dressed by their first name.

This is de­spite the fact that NUS does bet­ter than Penn State in many in­ter­na­tional rank­ings. De­spite NUS’ “suc­cess as a univer­sity, it does not seem to have been able to shake off the la­bel of a sci­en­tif­i­cally (semi-)pe­riph­eral South­east Asian coun­try (at least in the eyes of many Ger­man univer­sity pro­fes­sors)”, con­cludes “Global in­equal­ity in the aca­demic sys­tem: ef­fects of na­tional and univer­sity sym­bolic cap­i­tal on in­ter­na­tional aca­demic mo­bil­ity”, pub­lished in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

The study also re­vealed an Ivy League bias – Penn State’s so­ci­ol­ogy depart­ment per­forms bet­ter than Yale’s in sev­eral rank­ings, but its fic­tional can­di­dates were still less likely to re­ceive a pos­i­tive re­sponse.

The find­ings point to the ex­is­tence of a “global aca­demic caste sys­tem”, with the “US or the UK at the top”, that has “sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for how the in­ter­na­tional mo­bil­ity of stu­dents and aca­demics is chan­nelled”, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per.

The study is only “small and ex­ploratory”, and sim­i­lar ex­per­i­ments in other coun­tries might yield dif­fer­ent re­sults, ac­cord­ing to Daniel Drewski, a re­search as­so­ciate at the Free Univer­sity of Ber­lin, and one of the study’s au­thors.

None­the­less, the re­sults showed that aca­demics paid more at­ten­tion to “coun­try or re­gion” than rank­ings, he said, although he added: “It’s also use­ful to pay less at­ten­tion to uni­ver­si­ties‘ rank­ings…the ideal

would be to make de­ci­sions based on in­di­vid­ual merit.”

“Over­all, the emer­gence of this caste sys­tem is re­lated to the dis­tri­bu­tion of eco­nomic power and his­tor­i­cal legacy,” he said, which was some­thing that aca­demics could do lit­tle about.

Still, aca­demics could re­flect on their own bi­ases when mak­ing such de­ci­sions, he said. The Ger­man pro­fes­sors sur­veyed in the re­search had made in­for­mal, per­sonal de­ci­sions by email, which were more likely to be bi­ased, he ar­gued, be­cause quick judge­ments were more likely to rely on a cur­sory look at some­one’s home coun­try and univer­sity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.