To our esteemed dons: either publish or perish

The latest Webometrics ranking of world universities has attracted mixed reactions from the academia and general public. While the standards at our universities have been suspect over the years, the latest ranking only reaffirms this unpalatable truth.
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

The latest Webometrics ranking of world universities has attracted mixed reactions from the academia and general public. While the standards at our universities have been suspect over the years, the latest ranking only reaffirms this unpalatable truth.

Conducted by the Cybermetrics lab, a Spanish research agency, the ranking is largely based on global performance and visibility of the universities on the web. It also takes into account volume of the web content, visibility and impact of these web publications.

The National University of Rwanda, which celebrates 50 years of existence this year, is the best ranked university in the country, in the 77th position in Africa!

There is little to write home about the other public and private universities, many of them with a five-digit positions in the global rankings.

The reaction from the general public to the latest ranking is that of resignation.

The different changes that have characterised our education system from primary to tertiary level over the years have largely been construed by many as work of a clueless Ministry of Education.

While such criticism maybe perceived as overly unfair, the truth is that this vital sector has been trying to find its feet for many years.

There is no doubt that a lot of progress has been made in increasing access, especially at the lower levels and the liberalisation of higher education that has seen thousands of graduates produced over the last ten years.

One thing that we read from the ranking is that our university dons are not doing enough research. One of the criteria for promotion in the academic circles is publication.

For example, for a lecturer to be elevated to senior lecturer, they must publish at least two research reports.

If our lecturers are not publishing it means they have stagnated in their academic pursuits.

This will definitely impact on the quality of the students that they are charged to mentor. This is what should make our policy makers to start listening. Without the insistence on quality, we run a risk of producing educated illiterates.

One criticism that has been levelled on the ranking by Webometrics is that presence on the web alone is not enough a benchmark. However, it is also imperative to note that you cannot produce on the web what you have not researched.

And it’s not that all that is researched is published, a lot of research reports have been done in our institutions of higher learning but they have not turned into publications. This is mainly because they are found wanting in terms of quality.

Per capita publication at the NUR stands at about 0.17, while the ideal for Africa is 1. So the only tangible reason for lack of presence on the web by our institutions is that they have little to publish.

Any university worth its name has got to conduct research. It is through research that problems are investigated and solutions suggested. Universities should be measured by their research output  (publication).

For any research to have any impact it has to be accessible, especially on the web; this is why the Webometrics ranking should be seen as an important yardstick.

The National University of Rwanda has taken an important step by having its Rwanda journal indexed with African journals online but this is a drop in the ocean.

Some university dons with whom I have shared about the latest rankings see the impending establishment of the University of Rwanda as a saviour that will redeem Rwanda’s image in the rankings.

Their argument is that the merger will create a large pool of researchers who will be able to publish under the banner of the University of Rwanda. While this is a laudable move, it will take more than just bringing together hundreds of researchers.

Research will have to be better coordinated and better funded. Clustered research where senior researchers pair-up with junior researchers to boost their capacity should be encouraged.

This will go a long way in improving not only the ranking of our Universities but the quality of education on a whole.

Our university dons have to publish or perish.

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