Rankings can’t measure this century’s research

29/06/2011 – 1:26 pm
Stephen Oakshott

Source: The Australian

AT Tsinghua University’s centenary in Beijing in April this year, Yale president Richard Levin staked his university’s reputation before a distinguished audience, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, when he said: “The fate of the planet depends on our ability . . . to solve society’s most pressing problems.” He spoke of poverty, disease, nuclear weapons, water and global warming. In doing so, he placed universities right at the core of understanding these challenges.

American university presidents are investing big dollars in the expensive interdisciplinary research infrastructure required to help solve these complex problems. Universities such as Yale, Duke, California, Columbia, Indiana, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Washington, Stanford and even Harvard now view interdisciplinary research as core business.

At Indiana University all new research space will have an interdisciplinary focus. There is a multitude of American joint ventures with universities in Asia, particularly in China. Interdisciplinary research is a high-risk, high-reward endeavour, and these leading universities are putting their reputations on the line.

But, absurdly, there is a rapidly widening gulf between what universities are doing in research and what they are ranked as doing.’

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