FAIL! Top Universities Get Poor Grades on Global Health Research: Bi-Weekly Checkup (4/27/13)
If you’ve ever brought home a bad report card, here’s something that’ll soothe your ego: you’re in the company of some of the top schools in America.
Check out the grades earned by these prestigious universities for their “contributions to urgent global health research and access to treatment worldwide.”
Cornell and Stanford: C
Yale, Boston University and UMass: C-
MIT and New York University: D+
Released by an organization called Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) earlier this month, the report made headlines – including a write-up in the New York Times. It quickly sparked both debate and criticism, with several of the poor-scoring schools taking issue with their grades.
Here’s Dean Paul Cleary at Yale School of Public Health complaining about the report card’s methodology: “So inaccurate, it’s hard to describe.” And Donald Burke, dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh (which earned a “C”): “The survey was cobbled together by a well-meaning but naive group of students, so the results must be taken with a grain of salt.”
There’s something perversely satisfying about seeing an overachiever freak out over a bad grade – but do these critics have a point? UAEM is indeed a student organization, founded by Yale law students in 2001 – though it has grown into a non-profit with chapters at nearly 50 universities around the world. And it’s not particularly objective: its mission is to convince universities to dedicate more funding to neglected disease research. So it’s much more likely to stir up publicity by handing out D’s rather than easy A’s.
Its methodology also was arguably questionable. The report card assessed 54 universities on three categories: innovation, access and empowerment. Scores were based on publicly available information and supplemental questionnaires to the schools’ deans and department directors. But the report assigned a zero to any categories that were unanswered on these questionnaires and that lacked publicly available information. So if a school failed to publicize their research or answer survey questions completely, their grades might not reflect the true extent of their work.
Members of UAEM have said that they took this approach deliberately, in the interest of promoting transparency. And the report was released in coordination with Doctors Without Borders and endorsed by Dr. Paul Farmer, a leader in BoP health care and founder of Partners in Health – so it’s unfair to write it off as a product of student naivete. In defending the grades, UAEM members also have made a very salient point: neglected diseases account for about 10 percent of the global burden of disease, yet most universities put far less than 10 percent of their research budget toward them. If the report helps change that, I’d say it was worth a few bruised egos.
Speaking of organizations founded by Yale students, much of our coverage in the past two weeks has focused on Unite for Sight’s recent Global Health & Innovation Conference, the world’s largest global health and social entrepreneurship event. (If it makes you feel better Yale, I’d give the conference an “A.”) We’ll be releasing more videos from the event regularly over the coming weeks, including the interview posted below, in which Sarah Finocchario Kessler of Global Health Innovations discusses the organization’s HIV infant tracking system in Kenya.
Here are some other posts you may have missed from our past two weeks: