Go Figure: How good are UK universities? By Michael Blastland, BBC: 9 June 2011

Can’t help looking over our shoulders, can we, at the way the rest of the world behaves and performs? Comparison is compulsive.
And so we should. It would be surprising if we had the edge every which way.
But to state the obvious, people are different in different countries because they’re different, if you see what I mean. That is, international comparisons are seldom like with like. Some pesky social or cultural difference gets in the way – and one simple metric doesn’t show it…
My favourite bad example is from an academic who came across data to show that Finland had no escapes from open prisons. This was at a time when the UK was in a tizz about people waltzing out. He later discovered the reason: they didn’t classify this as escape in Finland, but “absent without leave”…
Maybe the conclusion is never to underestimate our ability to overlook the blinkin’ obvious in search of a quick answer.


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