Fri, Jan 23, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Are evaluations truly necessary?

By Prudence Chou 周祝瑛

The Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan recently released the results of an evaluation of nine public universities conducted in the first half of last year. Although more than 89 percent did not pass the evaluation, 42 faculties and graduate institutes were placed on a list for future monitoring.

Surprisingly, many of these were from universities with good reputations such as National Chengchi University and National Tsing Hua University. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has said that faculties and graduate institutes that did not pass the evaluation failed mostly because they suffered from a severe shortage of full-time teachers or failed to clearly define their teaching goals, adding that they would be closed if they failed to pass the next round of evaluations to be conducted next year.

Taiwan’s university evaluations had always been performed by external organizations. It was only in July 2006 that the council started conducting such evaluations, which were primarily aimed at faculties and graduate institutes.

In the most recent evaluations, faculties and graduate institutes first carried out self-evaluations and then mapped out development goals on their own. The evaluation center then visited and conducted interviews based on these development goals.

The evaluations were based on five criteria: goals, specialties and self-improvement; curriculum; teaching; student performance; teacher research and graduate student performance. University evaluations can be positive if they can help faculties, graduate institutes, teachers and students redefine their goals for study and teaching.

However, in the past two years, these evaluations have also given many schools a great deal of pressure.

This pressure includes having tens of thousands of university staff working around the clock to complete these evaluations, printing information onto tens of thousands of tonnes of paper, compiling statistical data and creating computer records, as well as demanding that faculty answer questions that are not suited to data-based research and requiring that teachers answer questions on classified research and other personal questions.

Especially worthy of attention are those schools that may lose their social prestige because they fared poorly in their evaluations. These schools may even have their government subsidies decreased or canceled, and their admission quotas frozen.

However, what we really must ask ourselves is whether the evaluated universities can really improve after all that energy, manpower and money was put into these assessments.

Who benefits from this evaluation mechanism?

Just as one evaluation leader who had just finished a university evaluation said: “When universities work day and night preparing information for never-ending evaluations and when teachers focus a great deal of energy on getting good results in National Science Council projects to help them obtain better evaluation results for their faculties, submitting articles to Social Science Citation Index journals, spending money to invite businesses to engage in industry-academic cooperation and even going overseas, including to China, to obtain doctoral degrees, teachers do not have a lot of time left to devote to their students.”

They also do not have a lot of energy or concentration to devote to critical thinking and research. Indeed, there are now very few faculty directors and university presidents who can stop their schools from becoming more stratified and market-oriented, with an increasing emphasis on quantitative research.

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