FINDING the right university is among the biggest challenges faced by high school students. They must consider multiple issues such as their personal aspirations and the quality of education offered, as well as things like the commute between their home and the school. Though it cannot gauge the inner thoughts of young people or quantify a school’s atmosphere, Slovakia’s Academic Ranking and Rating Agency (ARRA) tries to present a useful guide to the quality of education offered by Slovak universities and colleges.
ARRA has been preparing rankings of the faculties of Slovak universities and colleges since 2005 with the aim of helping high school graduates decide on the school they want to attend as well as giving guidance to faculties about areas that need improvement.
“Our ranking is based on publicly accessible and verifiable information,” Ivana Kullová from ARRA told The Slovak Spectator.
This year ARRA’s analysis focused on 109 faculties, including five faculties at private universities, which were then divided into 11 academic categories based on their specialisations. The final ranking is based on evaluation of several factors about each faculty.
What makes a good faculty?
ARRA’s evaluation process is based on two major areas – education and research – with various criteria assessed within each category. In the area of education ARRA looks at the ratio of students to teachers and the attractiveness of the study programmes, while the research area is assessed based on the faculty’s number of publications and citations, the availability of grants and whether there is a PhD programme. ARRA’s criteria have been modified several times in the recent past based on international trends for the evaluation of universities.
This year ARRA used four new assessment criteria: the mobility of students; the unemployment rate for graduates; the number of PhD students enrolled; and the faculty’s total number of publications and citations.
“Basically, the ‘winner’ at the top of the chart within each group has a large number of professors and associate professors and a small ratio of students per teacher, has been successful in receiving domestic and foreign grants, has quality publications, and has a high number of PhD students,” Kullová told The Slovak Spectator.
The private schools face some disadvantages compared to public universities, mostly in the research part of the assessment, Kullová admitted, but nevertheless they received very good evaluations in the education category.
“They [the private faculties] had a very low ratio of students per teacher and a large number of professors and associate professors,” Kullová stated, adding that the Faculty of Law of the Pan-European University in Bratislava had the largest number of foreign students.
There are several factors that decreased the final ranking of many of the faculties and one was a significant drop in the number of research grants, reaching 40 percent in some cases, according to the ARRA report. This can be partially explained by the failure of the Slovak Research and Development Agency to announce any competitions for grants at the universities for some time, Kullová told the Spectator.
Universities also have a problem with what Kullová called a "PhD students’ paradox", meaning that some schools have many PhD students who have not contributed very much to their faculty’s research. Kullová said this trend could have been influenced by state financial contributions which schools received for each enrolled PhD student.
“A faculty should have a large number of PhD students not because it is financially advantageous but because it actually focuses more on research than education,” Kullová told The Slovak Spectator.
Employers’ opinions not assessed
Though ARRA uses a comprehensive method for evaluating the quality of faculties, Lucia Kleštincová, the manager of the education section for the Economic Policy Institute (IHP), believes that an important criterion is missing.
“The charts are missing the other side of the coin – the opinion of employers on the preparedness of students for practical work and on the problems employers face when they hire new staff,” Kleštincová said, as quoted by a press release from her organisation about this year’s ARRA rankings.
Kullová conceded that it is important to know what employers think about the preparedness of students for work life but she does not believe it will be possible to include this criterion in its future evaluations, stating that there could be several problems with the data being verifiable and quantifiable. Nevertheless, she pointed out that ARRA is checking on the success rate of graduates in finding employment using what she called "graduate unemployment criteria" which is based on data from Slovakia’s Labour, Social Affairs and Family Centre (ÚPSVAR).
Old and new faces
Even though the evaluation criteria have changed in recent years, several faculties have maintained the top position in their category for several years in the row. The University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice has been at the top of the agricultural faculty category for several years.
“We do not think that we have advantages compared with other faculties of Slovak universities that are evaluated by the ARRA in the agricultural sciences category,” Emil Pilipčinec, the rector of the university, told The Slovak Spectator. “Our aim, first of all, is to provide education to graduates that will be good and will be well-accepted in the labour market.”
Another faculty which has consistently ranked high is the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology (FCHPT) of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava.
“The faculty is focused on quality research activities which are the necessary condition for quality education,” Ján Šajbidor, dean of the FCHPT, told The Slovak Spectator. He added that the university has a system of clear rules to evaluate the results of the faculty’s research as well as the work of teachers and these contribute to the competitiveness of the whole university. He also pinpointed good cooperation with foreign universities which helps his faculty achieve a high ranking.
The traditional leaders in some categories were topped by new faces in this year’s rankings. For example, the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pavol Jozef Šafárik in Košice took the top position in the philosophy faculty category. ARRA praised the Košice faculty’s high number of publications which appeared in international databases.
Several faculties of the private Pan-European University in Bratislava ranked high: its Faculty of Economy and Business and its Faculty of Law were among the five best faculties in these categories.
Ladislav Kabát, the dean of the Faculty of Economy and Business at Pan-European University, told The Spectator that this year’s evaluation “was and still is a nice surprise,” but that the faculty had tried hard to achieve good results by emphasising and supporting research activities and then publishing the results of the research.
19. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechova