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Category Archives: World

University rankings a flawed tool

The manipulative game of comparison and quantification turns institutions into players.

By  SEÁN MULLER

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How should we assess the quality and development of higher education ­institutions in South Africa? What is it that these institutions do that is socially valuable enough to justify receiving large sums of public money?

Is it the economic contribution of graduates, the societal importance of the research, other forms of contribution to society – providing a home for “public intellectuals” – or some particular combination of these?

With such considerations in mind, it is interesting to interrogate the increasing popularity of international university rankings as a means of either assessing university progress (“university x has done fantastically well in the past few years, climbing 20 places in the rankings”) or setting a milestone for achievement (“our university mission is to be a top 50-ranked institution”).

Although seductive in their ability to summarise institutional achievement in a single number, the many flaws of this approach suggest that it should, at best, be consigned a peripheral role in our determinations of institutional success.

To illustrate some of the problems, consider the Times Higher Education rankings, perhaps the most prominent of the growing number of published rankings.

This approach constructs a measure of institutional quality based on the two core academic activities of teaching and research. Teaching quality is measured by asking a sample of international academics what their impression is of the teaching quality at a given institution (15% of the overall institution score) and by using institutional information on the number of undergraduates per academic (4.5%), PhD awards per academic (6%) and the ratio of PhD graduates to bachelor degree graduates (2.25%).

Reputation survey
Peer perceptions, from what the Times ranking calls its “reputation survey”, are also used to assess research quality, comprising 18% of the total score of an institution. In addition, a “research influence” measure, counting a whopping 30%, is constructed based on the number of citations the research of academics at the institution has received. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Africa, Education, Teaching, World

 

The Surveillance Society

Secrets are so 20th century now that we have the ability to collect and store billions of pieces of data forever

By David Von Drehle

Privacy is mostly an illusion. A useful illusion, no question about it, one that allows us to live without being paralyzed by self-consciousness. The illusion of privacy gives us room to be fully human, sharing intimacies and risking mistakes. But all the while, the line between private and public space is as porous as tissue paper. The adulterous couple sneaking off to a hotel: Is someone following them? The teenagers skipping school to visit the mall: Will they bump into a woman from Mom’s book club? The solitary motorist thrashing an air guitar at a traffic light: Will the driver in the next lane look over? Like children of a certain age who think closing their eyes will make them invisible, we assume that no one sees or hears our private moments, and we’re right—until someone watches or listens.

This was true long before the National Security Agency began collecting our telephone and Internet records from technology and communications companies, and long before the House of Representatives on July 24 gave a fresh thumbs-up to further NSA collections by a narrow 12-vote margin, 217-205. It was true long before a military judge found Private Bradley Manning guilty of espionage for his role in the WikiLeaks case—but acquitted him on the charge of aiding the enemy—on July 30. The illusive quality of privacy is a recurring theme of literature going back to the Hebrew Bible. Consider beautiful Bathsheba, who strips for a bath in the second Book of Samuel, an ancient text, only to come under the lustful gaze of King David, pacing on his palace rooftop. Or Hamlet, whose private conversation with his mother is overheard by Polonius, hiding behind the drapes. The great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated by secrets that would not stay hidden and made a masterpiece, Rear Window, from the premise that entire lives (and deaths) are on display behind the uncovered windows of anonymous cities, just waiting for a watcher to decrypt them.

But the revelation of the NSA’s vast data-collection programs by a crusading contract worker, Edward Snowden, has made it clear that the rise of technology is shattering even the illusion of privacy. Almost overnight, and with too little reflection, the U.S. and other developed nations have stacked the deck in favor of the watchers. A surveillance society is taking root. Video cameras peer constantly from lamp poles and storefronts. Satellites and drones float hawkeyed through the skies. Smartphones relay a dizzying barrage of information about their owners to sentinel towers dotting cities and punctuating pasture-land. License-plate cameras and fast-pass lanes track the movements of cars, which are themselves keeping a detailed record of their speed and location. Meanwhile, on the information superhighway, every stop by every traveler is noted and stored by Internet service providers like Google, Verizon and Comcast. Retailers scan, remember and analyze each purchase by every consumer. Smart TVs know what we’re watching—soon they will have eyes to watch us watching them—and smart meters know if we’ve turned out the lights.

And the few remaining technical barriers to still more surveillance are falling before the awesome force of 1s and 0s, the binary digital magic that is the fuel of revolutionary change. Until recently, there were hard physical limits on the number of pictures that could be developed, videotapes that could be stored, phone–company records that could be typed or photocopied or packed into boxes—let alone analyzed. Now the very idea of limits is melting away. In 1980 (not that long ago; Barack Obama was in college), IBM introduced its Model 3380 disk drive, the first device capable of storing more than a gigabyte of data. It was roughly the size and weight of a refrigerator and cost an inflation adjusted $100,000. Today a flash drive costing one-thousandth as much can store 50 times the data and fit on a key ring. The amount of data that can be stored is nearly infinite. In a prescient series of blog posts several years ago, Princeton computer-science professor Edward Felten explained that this tremendous growth in storage capacity would inevitably spur intelligence agencies to collect all available data—everything—simply because it’s cheaper and easier than trying to figure out what to take and what to ignore. “If storage is free but analysts’ time is costly, then the cost-minimizing strategy is to record everything and sort it out later,” Felten noted.

Obama with Magnifying Lens

That is precisely what has happened. And at the same time, ever more sophisticated computer algorithms make it possible to sift through and analyze larger and larger slices of that data, raising social and ethical dilemmas that cannot be ignored. The future is here. Continue reading..

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Technology, World

 

World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report 2012-2013

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has published its 2012-2013 Global Competitive Report which assesses the competitiveness landscape of 144 economies, providing insight into the drivers of their productivity and prosperity. According to WEF, the report series remains the most comprehensive assessment of national competitiveness worldwide.

The report findings show that Switzerland tops the overall rankings for the fourth consecutive year. Singapore remains in second position with Finland, in third position, overtaking Sweden 4th). These and other Northern and Western European countries dominate the top 10 with the Netherlands, Germany and United Kingdom respectively ranked 5th, 6th and 8th. The United States (7th), Hong Kong (9th) and Japan (10th) complete the top 10.

The large emerging market economies (BRICS) display different performances. Despite a slight decline in the rankings of three places, the People’s Republic of China (29th) continues to lead the group. Of the others, only Brazil (48th) moves up this year, with South Africa (52nd), India (59th) and Russia (67th) experiencing small declines in rankings.

Looking into sub-Saharan region, South Africa(52nd) remains the highest followed by Mauritius(54th) and Rwanda(63rd). Data shows that while some African economies improve with respect to national competitiveness this year, the region as a whole lags behind the rest of the world in competitiveness, requiring efforts across many areas to place the region on a firmly sustainable growth and development path going forward.

Click here to download the full report. For other similar reports visit Word Economic Forum website at www.weforum.org .

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2012 in Economy, World

 
 
Politics, Society & Things

We all posses just enough to be our greatest self

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We all posses just enough to be our greatest self