UniversityWhat’s the deal with rankings?
What’s the deal with rankings?
June 26, 2015
June 26, 2015

I’m sure you’ve already heard this one—just last week, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) released their Asian University Rankings for this year, and coming as no surprise to those who have been observing these rankings for the past few years, De La Salle University slid down a few notches, now landing in the 181-190 bracket* after being in the 151-160 bracket in the past two years. Beyond the Asian setting, meanwhile, DLSU stands somewhere in the 651-700 group as of last year, which is another part of the school’s annual decline in these international listings.

The question on everyone’s mind, as it has always been every year since, usually goes along the lines of this: Why is DLSU performing so badly? Is it a reflection of the school’s declining quality of education? Or is it perhaps that other universities are progressing faster than DLSU?

De La Salle University placed in the 150-200 rank in the latest report released by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the lowest among what is widely regarded as the  "Top 4" schools — University of the Philippines, Ateneo De Manila, University of Sto. Tomas, and DLSU.

De La Salle University placed in the 150-200 rank in the QS University Rankings: Asia 2015 report, the lowest among what is widely regarded as the “Top 4” schools — University of the Philippines (70), Ateneo De Manila (114), University of Sto. Tomas (143), and DLSU.


No longer interested

Perhaps the strongest reason why DLSU has been suffering in these rankings for the past few years is its lack of participation. As the administration has stressed back in 2010, it is not the policy of DLSU to participate in those kinds of exercises; however, they nonetheless acknowledge the merit of having a ranking system for universities all over the world.

On the other hand, in the June 2013 issue of The LaSallian, then DLSU President and Chancellor Br. Ricky Laguda FSC maintained that the rankings can serve as a representation of where DLSU stands compared to other universities. But, as he pointed out, rankings do not have measures that encompass the school’s vision and mission, or metrics that evaluate how the students embody the core values and expected Lasallian graduate attributes.

Of course, the university was singing a different tune when they first made the list as the best private university in the country back in 2006, and have since used that status for publicity purposes as well. In fact, DLSU was still willing to respond to the then THE-QS World University Rankings—THE being Times Higher Education, once a partner of QS but had begun providing their own separate listing—providing them the necessary data, a year after the school made an arguably big impression on the world stage. So why then was there a sudden change of heart?

At the time, QS had implemented multiple changes to their methodology, which in one way or the other greatly affected DLSU’s position. The outcome in all of this, apart from the negative backlash, was the monumental 127-place drop of DLSU, from 392nd to 519th in 2007.

Afterwards, it just became a lesson of not adhering too strongly to its fluctuating nature and unjustified methodology. As the October 2008 issue of The LaSallian stated, after the monumental drop from 392nd, the administration erred on the side of caution and decided not to advertise the QS results despite DLSU making it back to the top 500—it was just too risky.

Though it is true that indeed the QS rankings are neither an objective nor accurate measure of a university’s quality, we cannot deny the fact that the rankings themselves have a strong impact on the public’s perception.

To most people, DLSU ranking far behind the other top schools in the country seems to them as the school declining in quality, and not everyone who picks up the news will take the extra step to fact check the claims, leaving the audience with only half the story, yet a full impression.


Prestige at a price?

I was once informed by a professor back when I was working on a different article that in order to participate in the QS rankings, a school must pay a certain ‘fee’ so that they may be evaluated on certain criteria, and it is because DLSU no longer pays for this fee that the school incurs 0.00 scores in some indicators ever since.

I was naive back then so I took his word at face value, and until now for the life of me I have not found a shed of proof to back that contentious claim. However, as QS has stated in their website, they never charge institutions for participation in the rankings, nor can a school opt-in or opt-out of their rankings. On the contrary, they do have a separate service that they do charge universities for.

This service is called the QS Stars rating which was developed a few years back. The five-star rating system is scored based on eight criteria ranging from research and teaching quality to infrastructure, internationalization, and employability. Unlike the annual rankings they post, the rating is more in-depth and requires more information from the university, and rates the school based on preset standards instead of benchmarking with other institutions.

The cost? $9850 (P443 028.38**) audit fee valid for three years and an annual license fee of $6850 (P308 095.88). It is a bit on the pricey side, so it is not so surprising then that almost all Philippine schools have yet to be rated by QS. But to those not in the know, being rated four stars by an international body is enough of an indication that one is at par or even better than other academic institutions who receive a similar rating.

In contrast, other accrediting bodies do not charge excessively for an assessment. The ASEAN University Network Quality Assurance (AUN-QA) program is an initiative among ASEAN schools with the cost of the network’s activities being shared among its member universities. The Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU), a private organization which evaluates schools around the country, only charges an initial membership fee.

To be fair, however, international accreditation was never cheap, nor was it ever free. In the October 2014 issue of The LaSallian, International Quality Assurance Director Dr. Wyona Patalinghug shared that preparations were underway for future accreditations from international bodies.

At the time, she revealed that the Gokongwei College of Engineering was making arrangements to be assessed by the Washington Accord and the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), both of which are international accrediting bodies. She also mentioned that the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business was also in preparation for an accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), another international accrediting body.

All of these organizations charge their own fees for assessment and annual fees for maintenance, but unlike QS, they have been recognized widely as more reliable accreditors, and also unlike QS, they specialize only on certain fields rather than giving an all-encompassing rating to the school.


Those that mind do matter

At the end of the day, the rankings are just rankings. It’s just business, as the saying goes, and what a strong business it has become. As a university who aims to be globally competitive and globally competent, we have no choice but to adapt to the international standards and customs.

As much as we want to say that the rankings don’t matter, the painful truth of that matter is that they do, maybe not to us, but to everyone else. This is more so locally where it has become a culture that we place greater importance on the ‘topnotcher’. Ask a group of people who topped the Bar exam as of late, and they would most likely recall his name and school, but ask who was second, and unless they were acquainted with the person, they would have no answer to give.

The problem now is that it has come to matter for many when it never should have mattered in the first place. Granted, it is important that a school complies with local and international standards set by different accrediting bodies, but what good would that do if all your competitors have complied with the same accreditations as you have, but still placed higher than you in some international and arguably reputable rankings list?

It is not to say that DLSU should lessen their efforts in seeking accreditations and focus on rankings. But in this day and age when people no longer have the time to look at the facts behind the credentials, it wouldn’t hurt to brag that we were the “best private Philippine university” again.


*DLSU originally ranked 181-190 in the rankings, but QS has since updated the listing and instead combined the smaller brackets together. DLSU’s current ranking is now in the 151-200 bracket.

**$1 = P44.98