The Colonist Fights Back…(Cambridge finally trumps Harvard)

Not the Cambridge mascot. Neighbour's dog in my garden.

It’s not any old colonist though: You will have to go back a few hundred years to remember when Britain actually was the colonial power, relative to the United States of America. Folks with rather shorter memories will be forgiven for thinking it was always the other way round. Anyway, the news is that for the first time since the inception of the listing 7 years ago, Cambridge Uni has overtaken Harvard Uni in the league tables prepared by QS World University Rankings.

There are a number of ways to rank universities, of course, and this is just one… but on any listing the list of the top dozen is probably not going to change very much. The quality was always going to follow the money.

Does this slide betoken other things? A change in educational batons in the spirit of the much-hyped and imminent Chinese Economic Overtake? Don’t hold your breath: the UK victory is only token: 13 out of the top 20 on this list of 200 top unis are still solidly American institutions, compared with only 3 British. Not surprisingly the list is very much a playground of the First World.

On another list, in another playground, the league of the top universities in Africa is dominated by a single country. Go to the head of the class. South African universities (led by University of Cape Town) claim 14 of the top 20 spots in Africa. Yet the African Top Dog Uni is only 397th in the world and the University of Zululand, Africa’s numero 20, is actually number 3724 in the world. Of course this list (more than the first) is a purer exercise in the still shamanic science of webometrics… but for a university in 2010, internet imbecility is as bad a crime as any.

All of which adumbrates the awkward reality that knowledge is no democracy. Never was. Never will be.

6 thoughts on “The Colonist Fights Back…(Cambridge finally trumps Harvard)”

  1. U have written a good essay. What i dont agree with is ur last sentence. At least 16 out of the first 20 uni. Are located within democratic states. Wats the meanin of ur last sentence?

  2. Hi there Sunday,
    Yes most of the countries practice a type of political ‘democracy’.

    As far as knowledge goes though, there is a clear aristocracy that is established right across the world. The top hundred universities probably have more money in endowments and budgets than the next one or two thousand universities. Wild estimate, yes, but probably not too far off. The acme of educational provision is fenced off for a select few. That is how it has always been etc etc.

  3. Very very funny! I am interested in the ranking in Nigeria. Is it not obvious that this thing is pure rubbish? Yeah, webometrics! So the worth of a university is not in the quality of knowledge – in terms of labour and output – it can boast of but on Internet visibility. In that case, I am surprised that University of Ibadan is even anywhere on that list.

  4. Hi Chukwuma,
    Looks like you are a UI alumni? 😉
    Well there are clearly many ways to measure Universities and that is how it should be. If a uni claims to be a research centre of excellence in the neuro-sciences it will focus its funding appropriately and score well on lists that rate research-based-neuro colleges…

    So the webometric shamans are not exactly smoking pot. The internet is a tool that unis will ignore at their own peril. Whether a uni comes out number 4,495 or number 5,323 is probably irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. This is not exactly the English Premier League. But unis that are not properly plugged into the internet and all its resources are certainly not doing their 21st century students any favours…

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