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Like the universities they rank, the rankers endeavour to innovate

Two well-known global university ranking projects have released their league tables this month, and both are announcing major innovations and improvements in their methodological approaches as well as in the degree of subtlety and precision inherent in the findings. In its seventh annual ranking exercise, and first-ever collaboration with new partner Thomson Reuters, Times Higher Education (THE) has gone so far as to state that the 2010-2011 iteration of its work should be considered “the first of a new annual series”. Meanwhile, the QS World University Rankings 2010 has highlighted its use of input from a larger-than-ever pool of experts (in academia and among employers).

In terms of specific results, there are many commonalities but also notable differences, at least in the top 100. In the top ten slots, eight of the same institutions appear on both lists, and all are familiar names from the US and UK. The more interesting details relate to broader considerations of national and regional performance on the league tables. For example, within the top 100, the THE results show 28 European universities. Half of these are British, while the other half is comprised of institutions from five different European countries (France, German, Ireland, Switzerland and Sweden). QS, on the other hand, has 41 European universities in the top 100. Again, roughly half of these are British, but there are a total of ten different European countries represented among the rest, as well as a Russian university.  Among Asian universities, THE has 10 and QS 15 in the top 100. Both league tables include in this group institutions from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, but QS has deemed a university from Taiwan worthy of inclusion in this tier, as well.

More innovation is on the horizon, of course. The European Commission says it plans to unveil in 2011 the results of a feasibility study on an alternative global ranking system.  And if what you’re looking for is technological innovation, the newest twist there may be the fact that there is an iPhone application that allows users to download and manipulate the THE data on a mobile phone. What will those rankers think of next?

THE World University Rankings 2010-2011
QS World University Rankings 2010