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More fuel to the rankings debate: new results available

After the results of the annual Shanghai Jiao Tong University, released in August (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe August 2008), it is the turn of the Times Higher Education (THE) listing of the World’s best universities. Unsurprisingly, the top 20 is dominated by US and UK institutions, with Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford occupying the top positions. After the UK, the first European country to appear on the list is Switzerland, with its ETH Zurich on position 24 (up from 42nd last year). Interestingly, the ETH occupied the 24th position also in the Shanghai ranking. The French Ecole Normale Supérieure and Ecole Polytechnique (on 28th and 34threspectively), the University of Copenhagen (48th), Trinity College Dublin (49th), and EPF Lausanne (50th) are the only European institutions – in addition to eight UK universities – to make it to the top 50. While 11 Southern European institutions made it to the Shanghai top 100, only three institutions, one from each Spain, Italy and Greece, are listed in the top 200 of the THE list. Eastern European institutions are totally absent from both listings.

The THE ranking is based on a number of indicators, of which the most important (40% of the total score) relies on an academic peer review. The ranking methodology has been criticised precisely for its significant reliance on not necessarily informed impressions by academics on the quality of institutions across the globe. Other criteria, in order of weight, are: faculty-student ratio; citations per faculty; online employer review; and proportions of international faculty and students.

For those lost in the jungle of rankings, there is hope: The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) has established a Ranking Systems Clearinghouse, with the objective of providing a ‘road map’ for the confusing rankings landscape. The initiative is funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education as part of a larger IHEP initiative to understand the impact of rankings on institutional decision-making.

Times Higher Education 2008
Ranking System Clearinghouse