Same story, different headline

Sydney slips in city rankings

The Age, 11 June 2008

Sydney nicer than the other lot

SMH
, 11 June 2008

Believe it or not, companies pay for this rankings rubbish.

Update: Another day, another city ranking, with different results. And this one you can have for the price of a lifestyle magazine.

12 thoughts on “Same story, different headline

  1. “Mercer sells its services to companies transferring its employees to different cities, and says anyone going to a city that scores badly (below 90 on an index where the base, New York City, scores 100, in 49th place) expects to be paid a premium.” – I wonder why a company needs to pay for this ranking service in order to know what to expect when they want to transfer an employee, you would think market forces would make it pretty obvious when the employer is negotiating with their employee. If I was working for an employer and they wanted to transfer me to Baghdad or Kinshasa, they wouldn’t need this list to tell them to pay me the premium as I would simply tell them that if they don’t pay me alot more I just won’t go (or will go and work for a company who will pay me what I want).

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  2. These rankings arn’t completely useless. Some of them actually give reasons for the scores which are handy. When I was in HK for example, it kept on going down the list, with the main reason being that most non-mainland China expats disliked the pollution which kept getting worse. This helped the issue get onto the government agenda, since they are keenly aware of the need to get the best of the best in some industries (banking) to work in HK. It also meant that companies can try and work out incentives based on the issues at hand, rather than just use money as the only incentive.

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  3. Certainly information about cities is useful, but I’m not sure that composite indexes of things that are not measurable on a common scale are very useful.

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  4. What about happiness or quality of life research? It seems as though that’s measuring (or attempting to measure) a similarly wishy-washy concept, just with a sharper instrument. But sometimes blunt instruments are useful for measuring vague quantities, to the extent that they can be measured at all.

    Also, as a casual observation, the top ~20 cities in these surveys seem fairly constant (certainly more so than, for example, the top 20 universities in different ranking systems).

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  5. Leon – Though subjective well-being research assumes that the range of feelings people experience is fairly similar between people, even if the environmental triggers are very diverse, This creates a common metric for measuring varied experience.

    While there are plenty of arguments surrounding SWB measurement, that different methods get similar results and repeat tests also get similar results suggests that they are fairly reliable.

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  6. Sure — and as I pointed out, these best cities lists tend to turn up similar results as well.

    All I’m suggesting is that there’s not much qualitative difference between ranking cities and, for example, ranking universities. You develop a metric somewhat arbitrarily, attempting to balance the variables involved, and see what comes out of the wash. If the same examples keep being turned out by independent metrics, you’re potentially measuring something real, if imprecisely.

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  7. Leon — the metrics arn’t developed arbitrarily. Most of these surveys are designed to measure factors important to well paid expatriates (housing, environment, work hours, professional salaries etc.), so they are measuring something very real. Generally, someone will have done some qualitative digging around for information that is important to that group.
    Of course, when they get reported, no-one actually mentions this, which means that the numbers are sometimes useless to most people. For example, Sydney always ranks high. But if you only earn an average salary in Sydney, it is quite frankly a fairly average place to live, since all your money will go on housing (London and Tokyo have the same problem). Similarly, there is an awful university cities index out there which is supposed to measure the best university cities. One of the winners of that is London. Clearly this survey is not directed at the average student, but it often gets reported like that.

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  8. Sorry, I didn’t mean they were developed completely arbitrarily. I used the word “arbitrary” because Andrew has a point about “composite indexes of things that are not measurable on a common scale” — composite metrics involve, like all data summary, a loss of information. I agree that these indexes are measuring something real, but that what they measure is comparatively fuzzy, and league tables are pretty fuzzy as forms of data presentation.

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  9. ‘Similarly, there is an awful university cities index out there which is supposed to measure the best university cities. One of the winners of that is London. Clearly this survey is not directed at the average student, but it often gets reported like that.’

    Indeed, London has a net loss of UK students – ie, more London-resident university students leave it to study than come to London,

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  10. The Global University City Index rather “measures cities on their ability to establish strong universities” as reported here: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/05/25/1211653848663.html – I don’t think it actually takes into account factors like accomodation costs for students etc, it’s not a liveability index. I think its easier to construct such an index, common sense would indicate that having London or Boston ranked in the top two is pretty much right. Interesting though how Vienna is ahead of Chicago and New York! Andrew do you know the reason why “more London-resident university students leave it to study than come to London” – I remember reading somewhere that London has the most international students in the world, followed by Melbourne I think, so that probably compensates for the loss of London-resident university students.

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  11. Christian – I think it was a story I read in the Times Higher Ed Supplement, and while I recalled the fact that surprised me I cannot remember much else. At a guess, there is a tradition in the UK of leaving home to study, and there are good universities outside the capital (not least Oxford and Cambridge!). Also, London is very expensive so that would be another incentive to leave.

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  12. Yes, I was thinking might be the reason. I am preparing myself for the high rent! I suppose it might also be similar in the US, with the tradition of studying at universities in small towns and away from home.

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