Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani responds to local media

By Salman Ahmed Rasul
                                          The Academic Building of the New Campus of AUIS

Webometrics report causes confusion on universities' rankings

Since, Webometrics published a global index to rank the top 12,000 universities around the world, including several universities in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in January of 2011, local media has highlighted the rankings to prove that education quality is low in Kurdistan. The rankings are based on Internet traffic, rather than academic standards

The first person to mistake the results was Faruq Rafiq, director of the House of Wisdom (Think-Tank) in Kurdistan, when he was interviewed by KNN satellite TV station a few months ago. Other media outlets gave similar reports. Since January, media who have filed these reports include NRT, which touts itself as an independent satellite TV channel; the official website of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (; and Hawlati newspaper in its May 29 edition.

The mistake comes from local press assuming it's about academic standards, rather than website visits, visibility, information on the websites and other criteria about the websites of the 12,000 universities. This is why the Webometrics ranked American University of Iraq, Sulaimani at 11,591.

Athanasios Moulakis, president and provost of AUIS, said it is foolish to use this ranking. "The so-called ranking by Webometrics has no bearing on the quality of an institution. It is a mechanical score that measures numbers of 'hits' without any information whether these hits are trivial browsing, research of the name of a football player or angry emails. It is simply fooliish to apply this 'ranking' to compare the quality of universities,” he said.

Timothy Doyle, director of the Office of Enrollment Management at AUIS, who is an expert on ranking, and is writing his doctoral dissertation on how universities gain prestige in the United States, focusing on how Emory University rose to join the ranks among the top 25 American research institutions. "The Webometrics criteria for ranking has completely nothing to do with prestige or even reputation; it's irrelevant at best for determining educational value and potentially misleading or even reputation-damaging at worst," he said. "None of the main ranking methods [that are] taken seriously -- some more than others -- give any weight whatsoever to the number of web clicks when calculating an institution's prestige. The leading American ranking system, U.S. News & World Report, admittedly generally controversial, gives zero weight to this factor, as do the next two leading world indexes, the Shanghai index, done by Jiao Tong University, and The Times Higher Education Supplement of Britain. The number of web clicks says nothing about learning outcomes or how student-centered an institution truly is."

Thomas Hill, Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University's Center for Global Affairs, who has been working with professors and students at universities throughout the Kurdistan Region for almost 11 years, indicated that Webometrics is true in a way. "I know there has been a recent controversy about the low ranking of AUIS by the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities. Though it would be wrong to look at such rankings as definitive evaluations of the level of education that any university is providing, these rankings also are valid in terms of measuring how universities are taking advantage of the Internet to make research and other scholarly materials available to an academic audience beyond their own campuses," he said. "This is really a new twist on a very old idea about higher education -- that universities should be generating knowledge for use by the entire human species. So, what these rankings tell us is that AUIS -- and, in fact all of the Iraqi and Kurdistan universities -- are not doing a very good job of making research available to a broad audience through their websites. Some Western universities are really pioneering such efforts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- the top-ranked university in the Webometrics study -- makes its entire curriculum available online, as well as large amounts of research materials."

On the substance of the question about the quality of research, Moulakis said AUIS is not a research institution. "I would start by saying that AUIS is not primarily a research university. It was deliberately designed as an undergraduate college, devoted to teaching and furthering the progress of its students."

Moulakis also believes local media compares apples and oranges. "The academic teachers of our university are of very high quality, and many, including myself, conduct research writing articles published in refereed scholarly journals and books published by prestigious university presses. But that is not the primary emphasis at AUIS, which is modeled on the distinguished undergraduate liberal arts colleges, such as Amherst, Swarthmore or Kenyon College, rather than on the large research universities, such as Chicago or University of California. It would be worthwhile for those who play the rankings game to look up this class of excellent institutions of higher learning, and stop comparing apples to oranges," he said.

Hill also believes a "knowledge revolution" needs to happen and the universities in Kurdistan have to learn something from Webometrics. "I believe the universities in the Kurdistan Region are immensely important in terms of developing future leaders for the Region and for all of Iraq. But there is a lesson to be learned from the Webometrics rankings. Right now, the Kurdistan universities -- the public ones, as well as AUIS and other private institutions -- are not producing enough high-quality scholarly research -- and are not succeeding in sharing what they do produce. In order for the universities here to really produce dynamic leaders for the next generation -- political leaders, business leaders and academic leaders -- there needs to be something like a knowledge revolution on all the campuses."

Director of Communications at AUIS Elia Boggia said it is wrong to use the ranking in the media. He said, "It is completely normal for a small, new university, such as AUIS, to have fewer clicks and Web traffic than other public, larger, older universities in Iraq and the world, and that's why AUIS ranks low on that particular ranking, which, again, measures Web presence, not academic quality. While only three years old, AUIS is slowly building a world-class, American-style liberal arts curriculum that is unique in the country. The ranking is not a reliable source for the media to use if they're trying to judge universities' academic quality."

Boggia also criticized local media on their professional etiquette for this issue. "I've encountered numerous hardworking, professional journalists during my time in Sulaimani who want to write about important topics and find the truth. In some cases, however, such as with articles about this ranking, there seems to be some level of laziness among a lot of so-called journalists. They report about a ranking and defame an institution just because they hear someone say it, without checking the original source: The website where the rankings are published. While many media organizations and journalists in the Kurdistan Region are very professional and thorough, I wish more of them would check the facts before publishing stories. My humble opinion is that there should be more ownership of articles that are published: journalists should feel like every article they write has a potential to enhance, or diminish, their reputation. This way, I think more journalists would be more careful to make sure the article is accurate, honest, and covers all the relevant viewpoints to make it fair and objective."

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