Posted tagged ‘Quacquarelli Symonds’

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.

Global rankings: the QS version

September 8, 2010

At midnight Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) released their university world rankings. Just to recap, QS were until last year the partners of Times Higher Education in their world rankings. Times Higher then parted company with QS and entered into a partnership with Thomson Reuters – their rankings are due out next week on September 16, and they yesterday released details of the criteria they have used.

But back to QS. The first thing to note is that their international number 1 university is the University of Cambridge (UK), which has moved ahead of Harvard and thus occupy the top spot for the first time. Indeed it is the first time in any league table that the highest position has not gone to an American university. However, in the top 20 the general distribution has not changed: the US is there 13 times, the UK 4 times, and the remaining three slots go to Switzerland, Canada and Australia. The highest placed continental European university is ETH Zürich at number 18. After that, European universities are fairly well represented in the top 50, but Germany doesn’t make an appearance until number 51 (Heidelberg).

The latter is just one place above the highest placed Irish university, Trinity College, which has dropped 9 places to number 52. There is also a drop for UCD, down from 89 last year to 114 in 2010. On the other hand, UCC has improved its position and has entered the top 200 for the first time at number 184.

It is hard to know for sure whether we are witnessing a trend, but the signs are that Ireland’s universities are, in terms of global rankings, in decline. That this is so is not unexpected, and I suspect that when the details are analysed we will find that one of the key factors will be the student-staff ratio. For two years now student numbers have grown, while due to government rules in the ’employment control framework’ staff numbers have dropped. The necessary impact of this is a decline in the international standing of Irish universities, and the consequences could be serious for Ireland in its plans for a ‘smart economy’.

During the week in which Ireland has also been found by the OECD to be under-investing in education more generally, we are facing a crisis that needs to be addressed positively and urgently. No matter how unpleasant this may seem to some politicians and some others, we need to grasp the nettle of university funding – and at least from my perspective I son’t see how we can succeed in this while we rule out tuition fees; the taxpayer simply does not have the resources to solve this problem on their own.

If we want to arrest an increasingly apparent and potentially long-term decline of our education system, and with it the erosion of any ambitions to be a knowledge society and economy, we had better act now.

The month of league tables

September 3, 2010

In the course of this month (September) two league tables will be published that, whatever we may think of them, will determine some people’s views of Irish higher education. They are the Times Higher Education world rankings (now compiled with Thomson Reuters), which will be issued on September 16, and the Sunday Times University Guide, which is typically published around September 20. Just to complicate the picture, Quacquarelli Symonds Limited  (QS), who until 2009 were the Times Higher partners for the world rankings, will continue to publish their own league table, expected to be out in October.

What can we expect to see this year? The Sunday Times rankings are extremely unpredictable; the only university to have maintained the same position, as Ireland’s number 1, in every year is Trinity College. All other universities have jumped round the numbers; DCU for example has over the years occupied every position except top and bottom. But if you look at the precise points used, you will see that the Irish universities are not far apart, which may explain the erratic positioning.

The Times Higher rankings may look completely different this year. For a start, they will only publish the list up to number 200. On present performance, that would mean that only three universities (TCD, UCD and UCC) will appear. But in fact they have also completely changed the performance indicators used and their weightings, with more emphasis on teaching than before and less on stakeholder and peer opinions; over 60 per cent of the score will however derive in one way or another from research. In the light of the tricky funding issues facing Irish higher education and the quality impact this has, we must in any case expect Ireland’s universities to begin slipping in these rankings, though it is possible that this will not become fully visible until 2011.

The QS rankings may be the ones that work best for Irish universities, though at this stage it is difficult to know what standing they will have globally in the light of the parting of ways between QS and Times Higher.

One way or another, we will hear a lot more about league tables over the weeks ahead.