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[Opinion] The Obsession with Ranks

Posted December. 26, 2004 22:46,   


The college application season is back in Korea. Though it’s true that shrewdness has always been a critical factor in the application process, this year the trait has never been more needed as the students have been distributed the average scores of each subject in lieu of the original scores, thus leading to the coining of the phrase “lotto entrance.” It is true that the administration has adopted measures to prevent school rankings in the past by doing away with individual ranking according to the total points obtained in the college scholastic ability tests, as well as adopting a full-scale “grade” policy starting from 2008. Also, the administration has withheld the scholastic ability results of primary and secondary school students nationwide, claiming that it will “lead to bias and further separating schools and regions.”

Despite these efforts taken by the administration, there is no evidence that the habit of ranking manifest in our society has changed for the better. In fact, the media frequently highlights the college rankings tabulated by foreign institutions. Korean universities commonly draw the conclusion that their institutions rank outside the top 100 universities worldwide, often based on questionable assessment criteria. The trend has even been applied in subjective fields such as “the stabilization of management of labors,” in which the related personnel are sensitive to the rankings tallied by the foreign institutes.

The simplicity of numbers has the advantage of sending a strong message in a short time. On the flip side, we fail to examine the related issues more closely if the message happens to be oversimplified. Perhaps the greatest problem stems from the fact that this calls for uniformity in our modern society, which values diversity. Instead of specializing in fields based on researching or teaching abilities, the assessments evaluate the colleges by a single standard, ranking colleges according to the total score obtained by adding the scores for each item.

Perhaps the reason we are so sensitive to foreign assessment is because we lack confidence in our institutions. Would Harvard really care about how foreigners rank its institution? Rather than blocking information or calling for an end to the current ranking systems, in order to do away with this ranking obsession manifest in our society, we should learn to deal with foreign criticism constructively, and gain confidence in our own institutions.

Oh Se-jung, Guest Editorial Writer. Physics Professor of Seoul National University