Don’t rely only on ‘reputation’

Readers should be careful when evaluating the rather biased Times (magazine) Higher Education World Reputation Rankings of the world’s top 100 universities, which were reported in the March 6 Kyodo article “University of Tokyo maintains reputation as top institution in Asia: survey.” As stated in the title, the University of Tokyo’s ranking (No. 9 in the world) is based on reputation — not on performance or results.

There are two sources of rankings on performance/results: the aforesaid Times Higher Education magazine (London-based) and the education information provider QS. There is a continuous debate in academia on the reliability, merits and limitations of both types of rankings and both sources.

In the most important ranking (performance/results), the Times ranks Tokyo University at 27; QS ranks it at 30. Kyoto is 54 with the Times and 52 with QS. As a Cambridge man, I am delighted to see my alma mater rated No. 2 by QS, but it’s rated only No. 7 by the Times (lower than Oxford — God forbid!).

Which list should I believe?

I would never rely on reputation alone when evaluating or judging anyone or any institution. But perhaps here, in Japan, where reputation and fame seem so much more important than actual performance, some journalists feel they should bang the drum and blow the trumpet for Japan.

I rely on The Japan Times to give me information based on hard facts, not on wishful thinking. I am disappointed that, although there is no ambiguity in the Kyodo article, there is not enough emphasis on the fact that this report is based on reputation alone.

By all means, praise Japan where praise is due, but do not let self-praise cloud the facts. Japan’s tertiary education system is of poor quality compared with much of the world — and not just the first world. Stating that the “king is gorgeously dressed” will not do.

paul gaysford
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.