At the biannual Convocation of Academicians held by Academia Sinica earlier this month, academician Lin Yu-sheng (林毓生) proposed to reform the university evaluation mechanism in Taiwan. Many academicians co-signed his proposal in order to demonstrate their support. In response, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) said that the Ministry of Education is to merge some external assessments to allow institutional self-assessments. This may be a good start in the reform of the much-criticized evaluation mechanism.
In his proposal, Lin clearly pointed out some major flaws in the evaluation mechanism.
First, the complex assessment requirements have created an enormous burden for universities and violated academic freedom.
What is worse is that the evaluation places too much emphasis on certain publication indices, especially SCI (Science Citation Index) and SSCI (Social Science Citation Index), forgetting that it should not apply the same standard to all departments or schools. Even Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) said that we need to clarify the goal of the evaluation and should not view publication as the goal.
Next, Lin suggested that the frequency of the evaluation be reduced from once every five years to once every 10 years, to relieve the burden on schools and teachers. Some academicians seemed to have different views, arguing that a decade-long cycle would be ineffective in today’s rapidly changing world. So they suggested that universities that score well in the evaluation be allowed to extend the cycle as a reward. Such flexibility is also good in the face of the ministry’s lack of manpower needed to undertake the evaluations. In addition, it should adopt macro-management by focusing on the essentials, such as the “teacher-student ratio,” instead of focusing on every little detail.
Finally, Lin suggested a distinction between “researching professors” and “teaching professors,” to correct the emphasis on research over teaching. Indeed, under the current evaluation mechanism, most teachers are forced to spend more time on research and less time on teaching to meet the assessment requirements. However, since research and teaching are often associated, it might not be feasible or pragmatic to draw a clear line between research and teaching professors.
Still, we must not forget that for most schools and teachers, the primary goal is teaching. To find a balance between research and teaching the education minister’s call for “de-indexation” is perhaps worthy of greater attention.
I am not saying that indices should be abolished, rather, we should apply multiple standards to different departments and schools according to their own characteristics, and the number of publications in SCI/SSCI journals should not be the most important assessment requirement, at least not for teaching-oriented universities.
As the ministry pledges to reform the university evaluation mechanism to allow more self-assessments, I suggest that it focus on the essentials based on the principles of simplicity, flexibility and diversity: Simplify the assessment requirements to relieve schools’ and teachers’ burden; be flexible about the frequency of assessment; and apply diverse standards to various settings.
I have called on the government to reform the evaluation system since 2004. After eight years, the ministry is finally taking action. Better late than never. It is to be hoped that the authorities can take the above suggestions into account and come up with a sound mechanism.