People still doubt the reliability of university rankings. Do you think Vietnam needs a ranking of its universities?

This answer may raise controversy. I know some people may think rankings are not necessary, because universities in Vietnam remain young and their histories are not long enough to review. However, I personally still believe that there should be university ranking. There are three major reasons.

First, the market and the demand of clients. Vietnam has more than 150 universities and a high number of training programs. Therefore, university rankings will help high school graduates and parents make decisions on what they should do after graduation.

Second, the driving force for reform. There are long lasting large-scale universities which are highly appreciated by the public, but they are not highly ranked after calculations of indicators and analyses. In Australia, it happens that ‘young’ schools have higher positions than schools 120 years old. The results surprise the universities at lower positions and prompt them to improve themselves.

Third, this creates competition which leads to higher quality of training and research.

Previously, ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities) ranking was implemented to ‘awaken’ and improve the research capability of Chinese universities, while QS ranking had commercial targets and mostly served students’ choices of a school. It’s still unclear about the purpose of Vietnam's ranking.

Which criteria do you think the university ranking should be based on?

In my opinion, the answer relates to the missions of a university, which includes creating new knowledge, training and serving the community. From that perspective, I think there are 3 groups of ranking criteria: scientific research, teaching and facilities.

However, the important thing is setting specific standards, and it is even more difficult to find weights for every standard. For example, if we decide that the number of scientific articles is a standard, the question is how much the weight for the criterion should be.

It will be difficult to find a reasonable weight without serious research, and that is the reason why all rankings in the world face criticism.

How can we explain the fact that many well-known schools which have high training quality are recognized by society, but have low positions in rankings?

What does "society" mean? I think if university rankings are implemented methodically, they will be acceptable. The results may surprise many people, but they won’t be a surprise to me. I keep watching and analyzing scientific research publications from Vietnam’s universities and our results are commensurate with university rankings. The long-lasting universities which have a large scale and receive investment incentives from the state turn out to have lower scientific capacity than new schools.

Could you please tell us how the ranking is implemented in other countries?

The rankings by ARWU, QS and THE (Times Higher Education) are the best-known ones. 

ARWU’s ranking is based on four major criteria, including the number of graduates and professors winning Nobel and Fields prizes, the number of scientists with highest numbers of citations, the number of scientific articles on Nature and Science, number of articles on SCIE and SSCI, and achievements of professors.

Meanwhile, QS ranking focuses on academic evaluations from other schools, the number of graduates working for global corporations, percentage of foreign professors, foreign students, the ratios of students to professors and ratio of citations per professor head.

No university ranking is absolutely reliable. The relation among university rankings is very low. Some schools in ARWU top 50 are not found in THE top 500 some year.

There will never be an exact measure of quality. My viewpoint is that a reasonable university ranking must meet 3 requirements: science, method and methodology, transparency.

Regarding ‘science’, there must be scientific research and the research must be made public. If there is no research, it will be unconvincing.

Regarding methodology, there must be a reasonable analysis method and the methodology needs to be built on a solid philosophical foundation. Rankings like QS are in my opinion less convincing because the methodology is not appreciated.

As for transparency, I think this is a very important factor in today’s world of open science.

Le Huyen