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MAK QUALITY BOSS SEMBATYA TELLS WHY RECENT RANKING SHOULDN’T WORRY ANYONE

By Otim Nape

Following the release of the latest ranking of world universities (by) Webometrics on 31st July, Makerere University strongly protested its placement in the 16th position in Africa – a drop by 10 places from its 2018 ranking – the ranking agency admitted its mistake and revised Makerere’s position from 16th to 14th.

In the revision, Makerere’s global position also drastically dropped from the 1,225th to 1129th, an improvement by 96 places.

Dr Vincent Ssembatya speaks at an earlier engagement

In an interview with Mulengera News, Makerere University Director of Quality Assurance Dr. Vincent Ssembatya has explained why Makerere remains a very competitive academic institution notwithstanding the latest ranking by Webometrics.

“Shortly after the release of the latest Webometics rankings, we [Makerere] engaged a top official at Webometics headquarters in a tweet conversation and they admitted that there was an oversight and now see; Makerere has been placed 14th, an improvement from the 16th position earlier stated,” Dr. Ssembatya explained as he showed this Mulengera reporter the latest Webometrics rankings on his large iMac computer monitor.

Dr. Ssembatya added that he would not be surprised if in the coming days Webometrics further revises downwards the Makerere University ranking because “we’re very serious on teaching and research in this institution and we don’t compromise on quality.”

The soft spoken Mathematics don, who attained his Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Florida in the US in December 2001 and also holds Masters and Bachelors degrees of Sciences of Makerere University, is the captain in ensuring that the 97-year old university, the oldest in East Africa, maintains its tag as the prestigious “Ivory Tower,” or Uganda’s leading institution of higher learning which can also claim bragging rights in Africa as an academic giant.

Dr. Ssembatya was appointed the Makerere University Director of Quality Assurance in 2010.

On 1st August 2019, there was an outcry after several print and online media houses reported that Makerere University had dropped by 10 places to 16th best university in Africa. In 2018, Webometrics had rated Makerere University as 6th best on the continent but the new ranking showed it had dropped significantly to the 1,225th position globally.

Makerere was ranked 11th in Africa and 1,033rd in the world in the first edition of the rankings issued in January 2019 although it had closed the previous year 2018 in 6th position.

The Webometrics Ranking is an initiative of the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group owned by Spain’s largest research firm, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). It conducts quantitative analysis to rank universities based on their uploads on the Internet related to the “processes of generation and scholarly communication of scientific knowledge.”

The July 2019 ranking showed Makerere also lost its rating to the University of Nairobi in Kenya as the best university in East Africa.

An internet photo illustration showing some of the influential figures at Makerere University. Left is Eng Wana Etyem who served as Governing Council chairman for a very long time.

According to the Webometrics ranking, four of Africa’s best five universities are in South Africa, with University of Cape Town in the first place, followed by University of Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria in fourth place while Cairo University in Egypt occupied the fifth position.

The world’s best ranked universities are Harvard University, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California Berkeley and the University of Washington all in the United States.

However, Dr. Ssembatya assured Makerere University students, parents, staff and other stakeholders that Webometrics is not the only university ranking they should consider in measuring the quality of Makerere’s academic output.

He cited The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, which he explained is one of the most prestigious but limited in access. Makerere was chosen for profiling in this ranking in 2010 by Thomson Reuters Global Institutions Profile.

“This system tracks a number of indicators based on source data. Times Higher Education (THE) only lists 400 universities in the world,” he said. He added that Makerere appeared in the THE rankings for the first time in 2015/16 and was placed in 5th position in Africa.

“Makerere University has appeared each year since then in the same ranking and even better at number 4 and 3 in some years. This rating is based not just research publications but also education and general performance of the institution,” said Dr. Ssembatya. “There should be no reason for alarm because Webometrics bases its rating on research files each university publishes on the website.”

The Director of Quality Assurance explained that there are many university rankings and that in fact, there is even a ranking of University Rankings; with the three most influential ones being Times Higher Education, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by the China based Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Makerere is yet to be ranked by ARWU. There is also QS World University Rankings, with QS standing for Quacqarelli Symonds.

Dr. Sembatya noted though that the Webometics ranking is the most inclusive since its methodology allows it to access a lot of data on over 23,000 universities, which is probably about 50% of the universities across the world.

And that is why, he said, Makerere University designed and is implementing a Web Presence Strategy to ensure that whatever academic work is produced is captured on the internet, with a website opened for it.

“All our 10 Colleges have a Web Administrator and Social Media Specialists/Communication Assistants to ensure that we effectively engage our stakeholders on the Internet,” said Dr. Ssembatya.

He added that Makerere has a target of 1,000 publications per year and in 2018, the university hit the target while in 2019, all indications are that the target will be surpassed since there are already 700 publications, less than six months to the end of the year.

“We cannot afford to ignore these rankings, for they will not ignore us; our consumers, the public take them seriously and so should we although we cannot lose focus on the core objectives of the university – cutting edge teaching and research to create a new body of knowledge.”

Dr. Sembatya also underscored what he referred to as the geopolitics of university rankings, explaining that a lot that may not be widely shared and freely disclosed, goes into the process. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at mulengera2040@gmail.com).

 

 

 

 

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