Pursuit of these rankings have led to the birth of myriad of evaluation systems and key performance indicators KPIs — all of which are conducted yearly. Because these rankings are determinants of practical outcomes — such as enrolment and critically, funding, universities are motivated and pressured to chase these constantly moving targets — even if many of them may be antithetical to the ethos of education and scientific inquiry.
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The irony is that these rankings are supposedly what informs the public, and in particular, the prospective students, of the quality of the education a university delivers. Yet the very activities that lead to higher positions in the rankings are often directly competing with basic elements in education, such as time, patience, and personal interaction — because these do not generate numbers at the end of the assessment year.
Even for research activities, for which rankings are inherently biased towards, the overemphasis of metrics relegate them to rather superficial endeavours, valued only for the amount of funding and number of papers they produce. The counter argument perhaps is, if we do not count the numbers, then how do we measure performance?
While there is some wisdom in setting targets and identifying indicators of performance, there can be no value in a blanket adoption of KPIs without nuance. This is where using the KPIs as a tool rather than a rule makes the most pragmatic sense — and certainly not on a yearly basis, certainly not for punitive purposes. The most useful outcome of KPIs are to identify strengths that can be potentiated, and problems that may require attention — not to punish weaker performers, or over-incentivise high performers based on measures.
Needless to say, the anxiety to keep up with minimum KPIs, and their trickle down effect on teaching and supervision of students are palpable. While many try their best to operate under the pressures of this ecosystem — the worst resort to unethical conduct, and the least are simply herded into only chasing the measurable. But we can never measure love and joy. We can never measure creativity and curiosity. We can never measure dedication and perseverance. We can only appreciate its impact. These are just a few of the elements that culminate into more than just an impression of excellence, or the mirage of something alive — they culminate in actual growth, adaptation and survival.
Often we admire trees for their height, the girth and pattern of their trunk, the shape and changing colours of their leaves, and the fruits and flowers that they bear — these are the things we can see above the ground. We often forget these wonderful more visible aspects of the tree are merely manifestations of the solid foundations existing beneath the ground — the roots reach deep to find sustenance, and reach wide to provide strength and stability.
The most resilient trees have root systems that allow them to regenerate, even when cut down to a stump. Without strong living roots, we can only be left with impressions of trees, made of plastic or holograms. Without a shift in priority to invest in establishing foundations in education, we may only be left with impressions of educated human beings. When I watch my children sleep, I find myself wondering what education they will experience in the years to come. Essay 4 of 4. Our New Human Consciousness: The Roots of Education. The end of the searching. Life Between Death and a New Incarnation.
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