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No surprises in the list of World’s top universities

The 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University has been officially released on 15 August 2008. While the new list will surely boost the heated debate on the methodology and purposefulness of rankings, the 2008 results do not in themselves differ significantly from the 2007 results. American institutions continue to dominate the top, with 54 out of the top 100 universities being in the United States. Only the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Tokyo manage to break the lines of the US institutions in the top 20. The first continental European university on the list is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology on place 24, followed by the University Paris 06 on place 42. A total of 34 European institutions – including Moscow State University - fit among the 100 presumably world’s best institutions. In terms of absolute numbers the European top 100 is dominated by UK institutions. However, some smaller countries like Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden fare very well in proportion to the number of institutions in each country. Only eleven ‘southerners’, led by University of Milan, make it to the top 100. The only representative of the new EU members states is the Charles University Prague (position 201-302 in the world listing).

The methodology applied for the 2008 ranking has not changed from last year’s edition. The Shanghai ranking is generated using six weighted indicators on quality of education, quality of faculty, research output and size of institution. The main criticism of the Shanghai methodology regards the heavy reliance on individual achievements (measured by staff and alumni with Nobel prizes or Field Medals), as well as consideration of citations only in a limited range of publications. Interestingly, also the size of the institution has an impact on the outcome.

The first voices of dissent and criticism of the ranking have already been raised, and more will surely be voiced in the weeks to come. The French Senate has proposed developing a new European university ranking system to counter this ranking, which is said to favour English-language institutions.(See ACA Newsletter - Education Europe July 2008). With France holding the EU's six-month rotating presidency until the end of 2008, the issue may well be discussed by the EU education ministers in their Council meeting next November.

Academic Ranking of World Universities