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The International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence convened its fifth conference on 6-8 October 2010 in Berlin. This event was organised jointly with the Centre for Higher Education Development CHE, in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The theme of this gathering, was The Academic Rankings from Popularity to Reliability and Relevance, and brought together more than 160 rankings experts and academic representatives from some 50 different countries.
The programme was heavily oriented toward the subject of “new developments” in rankings activities, and took in a wide geographical scope. Among other things, the conference explored relevant trends in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. The “U-Multirank”, “E3M”, and “StudentVox” projects underway in Europe provided additional examples of new ways to approach institutional ranking exercises. Most notably, the conference unveiled the “IREG Ranking Audit”, a new initiative whereby rankers may voluntarily submit to a review by external experts. The audit will focus on questions of whether a reviewed ranking is “prepared professionally, observes good practices and provides” stakeholders with “information that allows them to compare and assess, on the national or international level, programs offered by higher education institutions”. Successful completion of the audit will allow rankings to use an “IREG Approved” label.
While many observers agree that encouraging greater transparency in the rankings is a desirable thing, carrying out this complex exercise in a credible and objective way may be challenging, particularly within the relatively small community of rankings experts. Furthermore, it is unclear exactly what the incentives are for participation in such an audit. The idea of assessing the work of rankers is certainly intriguing, but the practical challenges ahead appear to be considerable.