A big task The Star Online > Education Sunday September 6, 2009

The Star Online > Education Sunday September 6, 2009

A big task

UNIVERSITI Malaya’s key performance indicators, although challenging, are well-defined, acknowledges Prof Dr Kurunathan Ratnavelu, head of the unit for ranking and development of higher education at UM, “I believe that the KPIs introduced in UM in 2007 and their further evolution this year are an objective method to measure productivity,” says Prof Kurunathan. He accepts that radical measures were needed to raise standards. “The challenge for us academics, including myself, will be great. We have to accept that many of us might have to make way for stronger academic staff in the next five to 10 years if we want a world-class university.” Prof Kurunathan says the KPIs are challenging. “We need to publish in internationally-benchmarked journals such as those indexed by the Thomson-Reuters Web of Science or more popularly known as ISI,’’ says Prof Kurunathan, who is also deputy dean (development) at the Science Faculty. He however, believes that the research publication KPI should be tied to the impact factor (IF) of the ISI journals as “under the research university target, the cumulative IF of the university counts.” The IF varies from field to field. As an example, 0.5 is the average IF in mathematics whereas 3.0 is the average in Chemistry and it reaches about five to six in the Medical Sciences, he says. Prof Raveendran Paramesran from Universiti Malaya’s Engineering Faculty too believes that the research publication KPI does not adequately address the issue of quantity over quality. He says his main concern is the evaluation of ISI journal publications. “Since the time taken and the level of difficulty to carry out the research that leads to publication varies in each discipline, then assessing it just by numbers may not be fair to those who have published in top-tier journals in their respective disciplines. “I think citations as used in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings would be a better gauge of performance.” Typically, a high-quality journal gets cited more often, he says. “In addition, during the review process, some top researchers in that area will be asked to evaluate the manuscript”. Prof Kurunathan welcomes the KPIs too, as they provide an objective benchmark for promotions. “Before, academics used to complain when the results were announced and question the criteria used in the promotion exercise.” Another aspect that needs to be addressed if public universities are to compete is remuneration. Presently, a professor in the sciences or arts is placed on the same pay scale. “Should we pay a professor of neuroscience the same salary as a professor in an abstract field? “ One is marketable and the other is not. If we do not change this, we will not be able to keep the best in many areas in our universities.” Since promotion and tenure is now based very heavily on research, many academics have expressed concern that teaching may fall by the wayside. Prof Kuru says UM should consider offering two academic tracks of appointment – research and teaching. “Those who love teaching can opt for the teaching tenure.” – SIMRIT KAUR Related Story:

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