Posted tagged ‘Academic Ranking of World Universities’

Rank confusion

October 8, 2013

For the last few years the late summer and early autumn has been the season for university world rankings. This season kicks off in August with the Academic Ranking of World Universities (published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University), and a month or so later we have two sets of  World University Rankings (one published by Quacquarelli Symonds, and the other by Times Higher Education).

There are also others that, at least for now, we can disregard; and there is the EU’s U-Multirank project, which describes itself as a ‘multi-dimensional ranking of higher education institutions’, and which says that its first (2014) publication will look like this:

‘U-Multirank is a new multidimensional, user-driven approach to international ranking of higher education institutions. The dimensions it includes are teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional engagement. Based on empirical data U-Multirank will compare institutions with similar institutional profiles and allow users to develop personalised rankings by selecting indicators in terms of their own preferences.’

The purpose appears to be the production of a variable ranking system that users program to reflect their own priorities; meaning perhaps that most institutions will find a way of extracting from this a league table that has them in an attractive position.

But back to the existing autumn show of rankings. What do they tell us? One of the problems with them is that they seem to tell very different stories. All of them agree on one thing: that US universities still clearly lead the field, followed by British institutions. But when you get to the detail, there is little agreement. Each has a different leading university. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is global number 1 in one league table, number 6 in another, and number 10 in the third one. And when you get just a little further down the list, the variations are much greater. And as the Irish universities have shown this year, in one league table they can go up significantly while, in the same year, dropping like a stone in another.

So are league tables really just unreliable? Are the U-Multirank folks right, and the best thing is for you and me to compile our own rankings?

The point is that, like it or not, we are in the age of rankings. People want to have an objective view of quality and merit, and they will go for something that looks as if it offers that.  Even when we criticise the league tables, as at some point we all do, we still play the game they set us. And in truth, that’s what we have to do. So then, choose your favourite league table, and see how you can use it to best effect. But don’t be mesmerised by it, and for goodness sake don’t construct your strategy around it.

Entering the university rankings season

August 19, 2010

The time of year for university league tables has now begun, and first out of the gate are the Shanghai Jiao Tong university rankings. They can be consulted here, but be warned that traffic seems to be very heavy and their server doesn’t respond well to the pressure; most of the time over the past day or two access has been impossible.

According to the website, the following factors are used to rank the universities:

‘ARWU uses six objective indicators to rank world universities, including the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific, number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index – Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, and per capita performance with respect to the size of an institution.’

The authors emphasise the objective and transparent nature of these criteria, but it is clear that they are heavily science-focused and that they also necessarily favour very wealthy research intensive institutions. It could also be said that they favour US universities, but in fairness every credible league table would have to do that.

In fact, according to these rankings, 17 of the world’s top 20 universities are American, with only Cambridge, Oxford and Tokyo breaking the monotony. The top 3 are Harvard, Berkeley and Stanford. The British are the second most successful, though way behind the US. European universities do make some appearance, though mainly in the lower reaches of the top 100.

And Ireland? Only three feature at all  in the top 500 (TCD, UCD and UCC), but not in the top 200.

When the Jiao Tong rankings first appeared in 2003, and for the three or four years afterwards, they were seen as the definitive league table. That particular status has now probably been accorded to the Times Higher Education rankings, but the Shanghai ones are still influential. So how can Ireland improve? Only one way, really: win Nobel prizes. It may be time to focus our investment.