De La Salle University (DLSU) slid down to the 651-700 group in the 2014 Quacquarelli Symonds’ (QS) World University Rankings, one of the more renowned international indicators of tertiary education performance. Last year, DLSU placed in the 601+ group, a category higher than where the University currently stands.
Many stakeholders see the drop as a reflection of the declining quality of education provided by the University, especially when DLSU’s peers such as the University of the Philippines-Diliman and the Ateneo de Manila University have ranked better than La Salle through the years. On the contrary, the administration has been consistent in denying its participation in the rankings, moreover, its patronization of the results.
In the September 2012 issue of The LaSallian, former DLSU President and Chancellor Br. Ricky Laguda FSC reminds that the QS rankings do not completely assess the quality education DLSU provides. According to the former University head, the rankings do not completely capture special tracks a college or university wishes to include in their curriculum such as community engagement and nation building, in the case of DLSU.
Although DLSU’s indifference to the results is the most recent statement the University has made, this has not always been the case when it was still ranking fairly well in the past. In the DLSU website, the Office of Admissions and Scholarships page even uses the rankings as one of its references to publicize the University.
A timeline of ups and downs
DLSU made its mark on the world stage back in 2006, when it ranked 392nd among the top 500 universities in the world rankings. At that time, the University was recognized as the highest ranking Philippine private university, being surpassed locally only by the University of the Philippines-Diliman, who placed at the 299th mark. In the same year, DLSU placed 59th overall in Asia.
QS, formerly Times Higher Education QS World University Rankings (QS-THE), made significant revisions in their methodology and criteria the following year, resulting to DLSU’s enormous 127 place drop in the world rankings. DLSU would later place 415th in 2008, but the increase in ranking was only met with lukewarm reactions from the administration who began the questioning the validity of the QS World Rankings.
From then on, the University’s ranking dropped annually, with DLSU presently at the 651-700 bracket of the now top 800 list. Meanwhile, the University also ranked 76th in the QS Asian University Rankings, when the regional listing was launched in 2009. DLSU is currently in the 151-160 range of the same listing.
In 2011, QS launched its University Rankings by Subject, where DLSU’s English Language and Literature programs were recognized. As of 2014, none of DLSU’s programs qualified in the rankings.
The methodology employed by the QS has long been scrutinized, despite the many revisions made supposedly to improve the credibility of the results. Generally, the greatest issue with the QS rankings is its giving importance to the school’s reputation rather than its academic and research capabilities. An analysis of the current QS methodology would show that the peer and recruiter review together comprises 50 percent of the total score, while research, measured only in citations per faculty, is only 20 percent of the total score.
The remaining 30 percent is divided between faculty student ratio (20 percent) and international orientation (10 percent), with the latter being the percentage of international students and staff present in any university.
One of the most controversial and contested criteria is the peer review. This is done by QS through a survey disseminated to various faculty and academicians across the globe, where the respondents are asked of their top of mind universities in their respective fields. Solely based on recollection, the peer review is 40 percent of the criteria.
Changes were made with the criteria in 2007, such as forbidding respondents from endorsing their own universities and including peer review scores from the preceding two years, to make the rankings more internally valid. The changes did reduce peer review biases, but it also counterintuitively restricted academicians who already belong to top universities from truthfully voting for their own institutions as the best.
Another change made is the adoption of using Z-score aggregation in the scores. Instead of the original method of scaling certain criteria – for instance the faculty-student ratio of a school, which was based on comparisons between the universities – the scores were normalized. This had a significant impact, particularly to those who had disproportionately high marks in certain criteria.
Despite its efforts to improve its methodology, QS critics have been persistent in slamming the implications of placing in the international rankings. Even DLSU began questioning its validity as a world ranking system. In the October 2008 issue of The LaSallian, the QS rankings were mentioned as unreliable, citing a university in Malaysia who heavily advertised their world ranking, but suffered from public backlash when the institution dropped 80 places in the following year. Upon inspection, the significant fall in the rankings was the result of minor changes done on a certain indicator.
The University further solidified its stance on the rankings when it issued a statement last September 2010 regarding the Asian University Rankings. In the report, DLSU clarified its stand on such surveys, saying that the University will not actively participate in them, and instead stressing the importance of focusing on academic excellence and holistic development.
“Although it has its own valid measures, we can learn more from it. I submit to it that we can look at some of the measures that are valuable to us,” Br. Ricky still believes.
An international benchmark
Claiming that it doesn’t participate or patronize the QS rankings, DLSU chooses to assess its performance by complying with the standards set forth by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU), where the University currently holds Level IV accreditations across 12 different colleges and departments.
The University also participates in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations University Network-Quality Assurance (AUN-QA) Assessment at Program Level. As of November 2013, DLSU has had 12 programs assessed.
Recently, there have been no apparent international benchmarks used by the University aside from the AUN-QA. The QS rankings used to serve as one of these benchmarks, back when DLSU used to participate in the surveys in 2007. International Quality Assurance Director Dr. Wyona Patalinghug shares that the University aims to gain accreditation from international bodies within the foreseeable future.
According to her, the Gokongwei College of Engineering is gearing up for accreditations from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the Washington Accord. ABET is recognized as an accreditor of degree programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology, while the Washington Accord is an international accreditation body for undergraduate engineering degrees.
Meanwhile, the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business is preparing for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an international organization that accredits different schools of business worldwide. The University is also up for another AUN-QA assessment this coming November for the Biology and Accountancy programs.
Patalinghug stresses the importance of having these international accreditations and assessments as means of having the school’s degree programs recognized worldwide.
Setting priorities straight
Patalinghug explains that the University uses the strategic plan it has set forth as a way of monitoring its performance. She furthers that DLSU’s priorities, like conforming to PAASCU and AUN standards, do not always match with the indicators used by QS.
“QS ranking has a different set of indicators. An example of them is the indicator for internationalization. We are not going out of our way to get international students here, but they are all welcome. In the strategic plan, it is not our top priority,” she explains.
Accounting Department Lecturer Nino Gonzales echoes Patalinhug’s sentiments. Since the Accounting program is one of the two degrees up for AUN-QA accreditation next month, he shares that the department has been strict in complying with accreditation requirements such as housing qualified and competent professors. They don’t prepare for QS rankings.
“Given that our department teaches the discipline of valuing standards – accounting standards, practices, and mandates, among others – we try our best to reflect that with our actions and preparations towards the upcoming AUN-QA accreditation,” Gonzales explains. The professor also mentions that although the QS rankings take a backseat in the University’s accreditation priorities, the contested rankings could still create a negative effect on the DLSU brand.
“The drop in ranking, although insignificant, can create an impression that the quality of in our institution can still improve in the future. It can affect the choice of potential students or parents who have considered DLSU as their top school of choice, but because of the rankings, may have to reconsider,” Gonzales adds.
Regardless, the Accounting professor is not bothered by the decline in ranking performance, since he believes that DLSU is able to follow through with the quality of education it imparts to Lasallians.