Brussels vs. Brussels

In a letter of formal notice, the Commission has recently ‘ordered’ the Austrian and Belgian governments to change their entry requirements for other EU students(*). The Commission argued that the caps and quotas that have been put in place by these governments are in breach of Article 12 of the EU Treaty (“Within the scope of application of this Treaty, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited”).

A law introduced last year was intended to cut the number of non-Belgians accepted on certain courses like physiotherapy and verterinary medicine by implementing a cap of 30%. Before this law, as many as 80% of the places on these and other courses linked to medicine were filled by French students who did not meet the access requirements in their own country. The Belgian Government argues that this puts undue strain on universities and colleges and undermines its domestic goals in educating medical professionals. This very much resembles the fierce reaction of Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer.

According to the Times HE Supplement, the Belgian Minister for Higher Education, Marie-Dominique Simonet, is ready to take up the battle with the Commission:

Simonet argues that this is simply the beginning of a process that will allow the Government to show that its system is not discriminatory. She is ready to resort to legal avenues. “It is not for the Commission but for the European Court of Justice to say if the 30 per cent limit is against European law,” she said. In 2005, the court found that a broader limit in Austria was disproportionate rather than unjustified.

Instead of abolishing the quota, Simonet even intends to tighten the regulations for future foreign EU students. She has proposed measures to close a loophole whereby residency can be earned by working for six months in Belgium. She plans to extend the requirement to 15 months, making it even harder for foreign EU students to gain access to these programmes.

The Austrian and Belgian governments had until 24 March to respond to the letter of formal notice. I haven’t seen any of the reactions yet. I’ll keep you posted on this issue.

(*) See the posts on Europeanisation by stealth, Higher education and Europe, More Europeanisation and Austria versus Brussels for past developments in these cases. See also this post on European integration in higher education.

QS and Flawed Rankings

It’s a fact! Rankings are getting more and more important. In a recent article in Inside Higher-ed I found out that they are even explicitly included in the performance criteria for some university presidents. In this case it was the Arizona State University president who would get an extra 60,000 US$ bonus if his university would improve its ranking in the U.S. News & World Report. But in the US, resistance against this ranking is gradually growing.

For the rest of the world it is probably the ranking of the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) that has the biggest impact. I am sure that this ranking functions as a performance criterion for many university leaders in the world (although, much more implicitly). All the more reasons to be careful and accurate in composing the rankings. That’s what you would think…

This week’s Economist reports on an MBA ranking published by Fortune magazine. The top exists of the usual suspects like Wharton and Harvard. But one well respected business school was missing in the list: the Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The school for instance had recently placed eighth in a national ranking based on recruiter ratings published by the Wall Street Journal. So….what was the case?

It turned out that Fortune had used a European firm, Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd (QS), to collect data from the schools and create the list. When officials from Kenan-Flagler spoke with QS they were told that their school had been confused with North Carolina State’s College of Management. NC State rarely appears in any of the major rankings, but it placed 25th on Fortune’s list. Along with Kenan-Flagler, Boston University School of Management was also a victim of the flawed research.

After reading the first line, I thought: ‘again!?’ Yep… Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd (QS) did it again.

QS is the (UK based) organisation responsible for the THES rankings and they are making a real mess out of it. First time I noticed that was when the University of Malaya (UM) fell in the rankings from position 89 in 2004 to 169 in 2005. This caused quite some political turmoil in Malaysia. The result of the ranking was even discussed in Parliament. Even Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi expressed his concerns. The Vice Chancellor at the time of the ‘rise and fall’ of UM did not continue for a next term as VC…..

What proved to be the case was that QS had counted all the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians as foreign students (one of the criteria in their rankings) in 2004. In 2005, they corrected their mistake with a steep drop in the rankings as a result. During last years publication of the THES ranking I was in Kuala Lumpur (at UM) and I could experience the impact of the THES rankings myself. I’ve never seen so many articles and letters about higher education in regular newspapers.

But…this was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a good thing that there are people like Richard Holmes that are keeping a close watch on the methodology used in those rankings. He reports on many, many instances where QS messed up. Here are a few examples:

  • On the flaws of peer review, and especially incorporating peer review as such an important criterion (40%), have a look here (on the geographical bias) , here (comparing the peer review with citations) and here (about the methodology of the peer review: a response rate of 0.8%!!!).
  • On the student/faculty ratio. All indicators are indexed on the best performer on a that indicator. For faculty/student ratio in 2005 this was Duke University. It was clear that this figure was wrong (not Duke’s mistake but QS’s). However, it was not corrected for the 2006 rankings. Here he finds out what mistakes were made. Since the rest was indexed on this score, the other scores are wrong as well!
  • There were also other universities were things went wrong, for instance here and here.
  • And then there are simply a lot of factual mistakes reported here. No…that’s not all. There are many more.

Holmes informed THES in an open letter about all of the QS mistakes, but they are not exactly in a hurry to correct these misstakes.

But also from the research community there’s criticism. For instance this article in The Australian from Simon Marginson, a higher education researcher at the Center for the Study of Higher Education of the University of Melbourne. He also agrees that rankings are here to stay, but he does provide some valuable input for improving these rankings.

It’s rather disappointing that reputable publications like THES and Forbes use the services of companies like QS. QS clearly doesn’t have any clue about the global academic market and has no understanding of the impact that their rankings are having throughout the world. There has been a lot of critique about the indicators that they use, but at least we can see these indicators. It are the mistakes and the biases that are behind the indicators that make it unacceptable!

Fortune already took the results of the MBA ranking of their website. I wonder whether THES will do the same thing… Probably not.

For the THES/QS World University Rankings of 2007, look here

Debunking EU Myths?

Andrew Moravcsik, Professor of Politics at Princeton University comes to the defence of Europe. Moravcsik is probably one of the most influential contemporary writers on European Politics and introduced a liberal inter-governmentalist approach to the study of European Integration (see for instance this book). On the occasion of the EU’s 50th birthday he writes an article in Newsweek – The Golden Moment – debunking the myths of Europe’s allegedly sclerotic economies, labour markets and politics. Europe is not a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history…on the contrary.

Economically, Europe is doing a lot better than is often claimed by ‘the pundits’. Even though Italy and France may be lagging a bit, Britain is booming and so are the Nordic countries. Central and Eastern European countries are showing even higher growth rates than the US. Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia are even growing at 10 percent or more annually. And this can even be done with a stable welfare state:

Despite nearly 50 percent tax rates and cradle-to-grave welfare benefits, Northern European social democracies like Denmark, Sweden and Finland grab half of the top slots in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of the world’s most competitive economies. “Nordic social democracy remains robust,” says Anthony Giddens, former head of the London School of Economics—”not because it has resisted reform, but because it embraced it.” (…) Remember those six to eight weeks of vacation every European is assured? Most Americans say they would make the same trade-off—if only their employers would permit it.

He also addresses Europe’s demographic challenges and explains why immigration can be a feasible solution for this, despite the recent problems with Muslim integration/assimilation in some countries. He argues that the greater diversity of future immigrant groups (because of the current selective policies) will solve those problems:

In the end, the specter of restive immigrant populations unsettling Europe, let alone undermining its culture, is overblown to the point of unreality.

Final point is Europe’s role in global politics. He is very clear here: the world is bipolar, and the other pole is Europe.

Consider how the EU began, 50 years ago, as a parochial Franco-German entente. Today, it’s the model for a continent. The EU expansion, subsuming a dozen former communist states, has been the surest exercise in democracy promotion since the end of the cold war.(…) It has extended the reach of democracy and free markets within and beyond its borders—in a way that American neocons can only dream about—and is becoming a model to the developing world. It is the “quiet superpower.”

Europe’s tools go well beyond EU enlargement. The EU is the largest trading and investment partner of every nation in the Middle East. The EU provides 70 percent of the foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in the world today. Almost all the world’s peacekeeping and policing forces, outside of Iraq, are staffed or funded primarily by Europeans—Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan.

True or not, it’s significant that 50 years after the EU’s march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that’s held up as a new lamp unto nations.

I too think that the European Union has achieved a lot in its 50 years, possibly more than optimists held possible at the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. I also think that a 50 year old sometimes needs some innovative ideas and a good overhaul in order to face the future. Yes…many arguments can be brought forward against the optimism of Moravcsik. But why would you do that to someone that just turned 50 years old?

Update: I guess I was right about the arguments against Moravcsik’s optimism. Here are a few, with a rejoinder of Moravcsik. And here on is an interesting discussion about the article (and the EU in general) between Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner.

India Rising (or part of it)

Last year October I made my first visit to India. I had heard a lot of stories and read numerous articles about the ‘Rise of India’ (Thomas Friedman probably topping the list in terms of optimism). So…I arrived with high expectations. After arriving in Delhi Airport, staying three days in Delhi and travelling two weeks through Rajasthan, I was becoming more and more fascinated and disappointed at the same time.

Of course I hadn’t expected India to have turned in to one big IT science park in just one or two decades (although some publications seem to give that picture). But I had expected India’s optimism, ambition and rupees to have trickled down to other sections of society…at least a little bit. I have not been in the booming cities of Bombay, Bangalore or Chennai, but judging from my experiences from Delhi and Rajasthan, there’s a lot of work to be done, in terms of public facilities, but especially in terms of equality.

Delhi’s airport was in many ways worse of than the smaller regional airports I had just seen while visiting Indonesia and Malaysia the two months before. The roads and other public works were definitely a lot worse. Steve Hamm of Businessweek fears that the lack of investment in public space might hurt India’s progress:

The infrastructure deficit is so critical that it could prevent India from achieving the prosperity that finally seems to be within its grasp. Without reliable power and water and a modern transportation network, the chasm between India’s moneyed elite and its 800 million poor will continue to widen, potentially destabilizing the country. Jagdish Bhagwati figures gross domestic product growth would run two percentage points higher if the country had decent roads, railways, and power. “We’re bursting at the seams,” says Kamal Nath, India’s Commerce & Industry Minister. Without better infrastructure, “we can’t continue with the growth rates we have had.”

In Businessweeks ‘Covercast‘ Hamm explains why the private sector not investing in India’s public facilities, even though it is dependent on good roads and airports for its own progress. One of the reasons is the bureaucracy in India. Compared for instance to authoritarian China, it’s a lot harder to get things done in democratic India. As a chief executive of Novartis explains:

“If you have to build a road in China, just a handful of people need to make a decision. If you want to build a road in India, it’ll take 10 years of discussion before you get a decision.”

And obviously, corruption is still a big problem:

Nearly all sectors of officialdom are riddled with graft, from neighbourhood cops to district bureaucrats to state ministers. Indian truckers pay about $5 billion a year in bribes, according to the watchdog group Transparency International. Corruption delays infrastructure projects and raises costs for those that move ahead.

But what I’m more troubled with is the trickling down (or better, the lack thereof) of India’s new economic prosperity to other segments of society. The division between India’s new knowledge professionals and India’s poor seems to have created different Indias. In a recent article in Theory and Society(*), Simitha Radakrishnan, a UCLA sociologist, illustrates this:

Rather than having successfully produced a “new middle class,” as touted in media representations of India’s success, emphasis on knowledge for development and a knowledge economy in India has had the effect of producing an elite with formidable economic strength, as well as the cultural dominance to re-imagine and negotiate meanings of Indianness.

(…) So long as those engaged in the knowledge economy are blinded by the belief that their success reflects the progress of the nation as a whole, and that their class positions are not privileged, the possibility for sparking true social and economic change greatly diminishes.

This dilemma is outstandingly portrayed in a 4 part radio documentary of the BBC’s “The Changing World“. India’s economy is booming. Salaries in the big cities are rising, and consumer spending is exploding. Economic opportunities abound in India – but not for everyone. This documentary series explores the effects globalisation and a decade of economic reforms are having on India. In each of the 4 parts it highlights another aspect of the rise of India:

Part 1 (25:00 ; MP3 10MB)
A new materialism and consumerism is an obvious sign of India ’s growing middle class. The BBC’s George Arney has been visiting India for nearly three decades. He says that India used to spiritually rich, but materially very poor. Now, Arney reports, it’s a very different story.

Part 2 (25:00 ; MP3 10MB)
This part focuses on the Indian state of Bihar. The squalor there is obvious. Bihar is glaringly left out of India ’s economic revolution. The BBC reports from a region known as India ’s Heart of Darkness.

Part 3 (25:00 ; MP3 10MB)
As India’s economy rises, its entertainment industry is also taking off and an urban culture emerges. In this part Arney takes a close-up look at the nation that lies behind the shiny façade of modern India.

Part 4 (25:00 ; MP3 10MB)
The environmental and social costs of India’s rapid expansion.

It’s definitely a revealing documentary, with all 4 parts picturing contemporary India in a lively manner and with all its paradoxes. It contains several observations and interviews that clearly confirm Radakrishnan’s point.

(*) Smitha Radakrishnan (2007) Rethinking knowledge for development: Transnational knowledge professionals and the “new” India. In: Theory and Society

So…how far is Lisbon from here?

Confusing isn’t it? This Lisbon Agenda stating that Europe will become the most competitive economy in the world in 2010. Just over a week ago all seemed to be going well and Lisbon was coming in sight. The EU was on track to meet growth and jobs targets:

After years of sluggish growth, Europe is on track to meet employment and growth targets, due to reforms of its labour markets, a study shows today. Allianz SE, one of Europe’s largest financial services providers, says that the EU-15 is 90% on track to meet the Lisbon Agenda goals by 2010 – up from 73% at the end of 2005.
In its latest growth and jobs monitor, Allianz SE said the performance of all EU-15 countries improved from last year. Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands performed well, while the UK and Germany were also credited with achieving high growth and employment. “Europe has finally turned the corner after years of disappointing performance,” said Michael Heise, chief economist of Allianz SE. “The monitor clearly indicates that the reform efforts of past years are starting to pay off.”

Another important aspect of the Lisbon Agenda is the upgrading of the knowledge and skills of the working population. This morning I read a report from the US based ‘Making Opportunity Affordable‘ project about the rates of college attainment (Hitting Home: Quality, Cost and Access Challenges Confronting Higher Education Today). According to its authors, Americas international competitors are showing signs of overtaking the US in educating their citizens. Although Canada, South Korea and Japan are the three countries identified as the top performing in college attainment, European countries are also overtaking or catching up with the US.
But yesterday it appeared that all this doesn’t seem to help. Allegedly, the EU is still trailing 22 years behind the US:

The EU is 22 years behind the US on economic growth according to a new study, with several other economic indicators showing further gaps despite Europe’s ambitious reform agenda to be praised by leaders at this week’s summit.
However, in a bid to start catching up with the US on key Lisbon indicators, Europe would have to perform better than the States, according to the study. “If income (GDP per capita) would grow in the US at 2 percent per year and in the EU at 3 percent per year, meaning a 1 percent higher growth of the EU, the EU would catch up with the US around 2045” the authors of the report concluded.