Archive for college ranking

Paris-Saclay campus debated in Nature

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2020 by xi'an

The newly created entity of the Paris-Saclay University is featuring in two editorials of Nature of 03 November for reaching a high ranking in one of the many league tables purportedly summarising the academic achievements of universities by a single number. This entity is made of the much older Université d’Orsay and of aggregated research institutes like Ecole Normale (formerly) de Cachan, Institut d’Optique, or Centrale Supélec, incidentally and uninterestingly located nearby my home. As an aggregate of high quality institutions, it is thus little surprise that it achieves a sufficient critical mass to reach a high ranking. Were the nearby Institut Polytechnique de Paris integrated as well, the ranking would have been even higher. (Why the two adjacent campuses did not merge defies rationality, but can be explained by politics and the long-standing opposition between Universités and Grandes Écoles in the French academic landscape.) I thus think the Nature editorial about the dangers to “the well-being of those on the academic front line” brought by the quest for high rankings is missing the point. By a fair margin. Indeed, it mixes the financial and institutional efforts made by [former president] Nicolas Sarkozy in creating a single campus with the funding of this mostly pre-existing campus [and in dire need of renovations, as exemplified by the new math department]. And seems to see the more competitive grant system in France connected with this creation when the [somewhat controversial] Agence Nationale de la Recherche in charge of the public-funded grants has been around since 2005. And I find that the unceasingly growing mille-feuille of aggregates, conglomerates, unions, initiatives, &tc. happening in the French academic landscape [like Paris Dauphine joining PSL a few years ago, whose status was confirmed today] are both blurring the picture and reducing the efficiency of the maneuvers by multiplying the administrative structures without creating a sense of belonging to a common institution. Plus ça change…

Nature tidbits

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2019 by xi'an

Before returning a few older issues of Nature to the coffee room of the maths department, a quick look brought out the few following items of interests, besides the great cover above:

  • France showing the biggest decline in overal output among the top 10 countries in the Nature Index Annual Tables.
  • A tribune again the EU’s Plan S, towards funding (private) publishers directly from public (research) money. Why continuing to support commercial journals one way or another?!
  • A short debate on geo-engineering towards climate control, with the dire warning that “little is known about the consequences” [which could be further damaging the chances of human survival on this planet].
  • Another call for the accountability of companies designing AI towards fairness and unbiasedness [provided all agree on the meaning of these terms]
  • A study that argues that the obesity epidemics is more prevalent in rural than urban areas due to a higher recourse to junk food in the former.
  • A data mining venture in India to mine [not read] 73 million computerised journal articles, which is not yet clearly legal as the publishers object to it. Although the EU (and the UK) have laws authorising mining for non-commercial goals. (And India has looser regulations wrt copyright.)

Uneducated guesses

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2012 by xi'an

I received this book, Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies by Howard Wainer, from Princeton University Press for review in CHANCE. Alas, I am presumably one of the least likely adequate reviewers for the book in that

  • having done all of my academic training in France (except for my most useful post-doctoral training in Purdue and in Cornell), I never took any of those ACT/SAT/&tc tests (except for the GRE at the very end of my Ph.D. towards a post-doctoral grant I did not get!);
  • teaching in a French university, I never used any of those tests to compare undergraduate or graduates applicants;
  • I am very marginally aware of the hiring process in US universities at the undergraduate, even though I knew about the early admission policy;
  • there is no equivalent in the French high school system, given that high school students have to undergo a national week-long exam, le baccalauréat, to enter higher education and that most curricula actually decide on the basis of the high school record, prior to [but conditional on] the baccalauréat.

Thus, this review of Wainer’s Uneducated Guesses is to be taken with pinches (or even tablespoons) of salt. And to be opposed to other reviews. Esp. in Statistics journals (I could not find any).

My role in this parallels Spock’s when he explained `Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.‘” (page 157)

First, the book is very pleasant to read, with a witty and whimsical way of pushing strong (and well-argued) opinions. Even as a complete bystander, I found the arguments advanced for keeping SAT as the preferential tool for student selection quite engaging, as were the later ones against teacher and college rankings equally making sense. So the book should appeal to a large chunk of the public, as prospective students, parents, high school teachers or college selection committees. (Scholars on entrance tests may already have seen the arguments since most of the chapter are based on earlier papers of  Howard Wainer.) Second, and this is yet another reason why I feel remote from the topic, the statistical part of the analysis is simply not covered in the book. There are tables and there are graphs, there are regressions and there are interpolation curves, there is a box-plot and there are normal densities, but I am missing a statistical model that would push us further than the common sense that permeates the whole book. After reading the book, my thirst about the modelling of education tests and ranking is thus far from being quenched! (Note I am not saying the author is ignorant of such matters, since he published in psychometrics, educational statistics and other statistics journals, and taught Statistics at Wharton. The technical side of the argument does exist, but it is not included in the book. The author refers to Gelman et al., 1995, and to the fruitful Bayesian approach on page 69.)

Continue reading