Having been here in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for about a month I can now say that the university is very serious about what it’s doing. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The whole academic language revolves around publishing with the common usage of "top-tier journals" "high impact factors". Everything is geared towards that goal with the understanding that this will :
- Promote excellence.
- Promote the university’s world rankings and reputation.
- Promote the professors’ reputation.
- Help the PhD students get better job placements when they finish their PhD.
There isn’t a single professor I talk to, no matter from what department, that hasn’t spoken to me in this language. I have the deepest appreciation for the spirit and motivation of the school here to make it to be the world’s finest.
There are some wonderful positives with the rankings trend, but there are also some downfalls. I’ll first let you listen to a short note given by Aaron Ciechanover (an Israeli noble prize winner) at the HKUST IAS Inaugural Symposium "Mapping Frontiers of Science" Roundtable: "Future Directions and Challenges":
[Side-thought : Could it maybe be a little about cultural differences in attitudes towards academy – Chinese vs. Israeli?]
In some of the classes I had before (not only HKUST), when mentioning a topic I was curious about I was responded with "it does sound like a very interesting issue, but from my experience top-tier journal editors do not like it as it’s too…". When looking at articles the question of "what’s your opinion/criticism about this article" is sometimes replaced by "what made this article successful/publishable?". The main topic discussed in class revolves around the "significant contribution" and looking to say something new that would lead to the next publication.
Advice that I’ve heard in some lectures in NCKU (Taiwan) on looking up your potential reviewers and incorporating their citations just as to increase the chances of getting published takes this to a whole new level of cynicism.
Going back to Aaron’s note – I must say that I almost didn’t feel any of that in the OB department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, maybe seeing a little of that at the Marketing department.
I appreciate rankings. When looking for a good university in this region, having zero knowledge about what’s going on, I resulted to the various university rankings to try and figure out which is a good university in Asia to go study with. HKUST, although a very young university (since 1991-2), has been playing this game well, positioning itself very high in those rankings, especially for the business school (FT #1 EMBA in the world, FT #17 MBA in the world, EIU #11 business school in the world… ?!). Very impressive. But, what does it all mean?
Rankings, impact factors, top-tier etc. Is this the system that we want? Does this really promote academy? Does this promote creativity and progress? Is this truly the best system or is there perhaps a better alternative?