Wed, Dec 17, 2014 - Page 4 News List

School rankings fuel fraud: academics

FAILING GRADE:Professors pushed for changes to an institutional evaluation system that they said encourages meaningless research and undermines educational goals

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Education’s university evaluation system should be reformed to focus more on educational quality rather than research volume, representatives of the Educational Reform Forum said yesterday.

In reaction to an academic fraud scandal which led last week to the retraction of an article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, panelists said that the system of evaluating professors and academic institutions creates perverse incentives which undermine the quality of education and encourage and enable fraud.

Currently, indices of academic citations are an important tool used to determine school funding, as well as faculty advancement and pay.

Panelists said that the emphasis on research in evaluations for all colleges and universities is unrealistic, given that in other nations, research is concentrated in a relatively small number of research universities.

“You cannot require all schools to be Einstein, which is what we are doing now,” National Taiwan University psychology professor Hwang Kwang-kuo (黃光國) said. “If you pay attention, there is a substantial amount of research published that is essentially the meaningless collection of data.”

He added that the emphasis on publishing is coupled with a weak peer-review system caused by the small size of Taiwan’s academic circles. Personal relationships turn peer review into a process of mutual back-scratching in which everyone passes, he said.

The same incentives that lead to meaningless research also encourage fraud, National Chengchi University professor of education Prudence Chou (周祝瑛) said.

The series of international scandals that have pounded Taiwan’s academic reputation stem from a culture of fabrication that permeates higher education, she said.

She called for peer review to be opened up to admit international experts and for educational evaluations to be revised to take into account teaching quality, rather than defining productivity in terms of research paper counts.

“Use of indices based on citations has caused a continual narrowing of higher education” she said. “Because schools care only about publication volume, the original functions of higher education get strangled.”

Other panelists concurred that instruction has suffered as result of the focus on paper output.

“There has been a devaluation of the value of college degrees because of the poor quality of education” National Taiwan University professor emeritus of chemistry Liu Kwang-ting (劉廣定) said.

Most newly minted chemistry masters students do work that would be done by graduates of community colleges abroad, he added.

He called the number of masters students admitted by universities “absurd,” saying that professors take on far more students than they can individually mentor because they rely on student research to boost their own paper count.

Newly enrolled student numbers at public research universities should be reduced sharply to remedy the extremely high student-teacher ratio, he said, calling for student numbers to be cut by 25 percent over three years.

In response to questions regarding panelists’ suggestions, Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) said internal academic discipline and the prevention of fraud should be important criteria used in university evaluations.

He also renewed calls for universities to not use paper counts to determine faculty pay, adding that while indices of academic citations can be a reference, they should not be focused on to the extent that longer-term measures of productivity are ignored.

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