University ranking agency in bribes row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am

A Shenzhen-based ranking agency has been accused of favouring a university in Sichuan in return for money, reigniting debate over the credibility of such rankings on the mainland.

Citing unidentified sources, the People's Daily reported yesterday that Wu Shulian, lead author of the China University Evaluation Project, was invited to give a lecture at Chengdu University of Technology in 2004 and another in 2006, and later received tens of thousands of yuan in payment.

The university's ranking was raised from No116 in the 2004 report to No92 in 2007, before falling to No103 this year.

The allegation has underscored some of the shady practices of mainland ranking agencies, which allegedly use their reports to hold universities to ransom.

Opponents, particularly universities, have argued against college ranking agencies, saying they do not consult university authorities in their research and use problematic evaluation systems. However, universities are still affected by the annual rankings, which hold enormous sway over potential students and their parents. As analysts have observed, that influence allows the ranking agencies to be open to bribes.

Gong Ke, president of Tianjin University, told the media in March that they had turned down a ranking research institute's request for sponsorship, shedding a rare light on the relationship between universities and agencies. Mr Wu admitted he had accepted payment in return for providing consulting services to the Chengdu university.

Highlighting the difference between the payment he received and sponsorship, he said the consulting services represented a shift in their operations. He said the revenue from the consulting services would facilitate their research.

Mr Wu said it was a difficult decision, but the move did not compromise the independence of the company's research, citing the No92 ranking of the university in its 2002 report.

He also criticised the People's Daily report for using the deals with the university to discredit his agency and rankings in general.

But Beijing Institute of Technology professor Yang Dongping said the public had good reason to question the conduct of people like Mr Wu, as it could easily lead to the impression that they were making money illicitly.

'If you hold the rankings as something fair and objective, while you're making money in secret, they're bound to be questionable.'

Professor Yang said he supported university rankings, but the sector was becoming so unregulated that the collective reputation of ranking agencies was at stake. 'You have to draw a line, to say whether you want to be a non-profit ranking agency or a pure business,' he said.