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The EU-funded “U-Multirank” was publicly launched under the Irish EU Presidency in Dublin on 30 January. Following a feasibility study finalised in 2011 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2011), a further EUR 2 million in EU funding from the Lifelong Learning Programme in 2013-14 will be invested in this project. In the coming year, the project aims to attract 500 universities from Europe and beyond to submit data for ranking, or rather, benchmarking, in the following five areas: reputation for research, quality of teaching and learning, international orientation, success in knowledge transfer (such as partnerships with businesses and start-ups), and contribution to regional growth. In addition, four specific subject areas will be rated in the project: business studies, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and physics, meaning also the need for data from institutions in these subject areas. The first results of the ranking will be published in early 2014.
The ambition of the U-Multirank is to avoid biases, in particular towards research-intensive universities, one of the major criticisms for the Academic Ranking of World Universities launched by the Shanghai Jiaotong University in 2003. This ambition to be comprehensive and objective, however, comes with a hefty bill if compared to the humble start-up of the Shanghai Jiaotong ranking with just a few researchers. While the effect of the ranking is yet to be seen, concerns about the costs, not only the costs to the EU but the costs to the universities for data collection, have already surfaced. Besides, leading research universities in Europe, especially those that are currently at the top, have been critical about the design of the project which relies on self-reported data but shows no clearly defined “reality-check” mechanism.
It is inevitable that any kind of ranking has its limitations in capturing the perfect information. Among all, the biggest challenge here is data comparability and data collection, considering the vast diversity among universities around the world and that universities are likely to have different data collection standards or no data at all.
The U-Multirank will be compiled by an independent consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) in Germany and the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) in the Netherlands. They will work with partners including the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University (CWTS), academic publishers Elsevier, the Bertelsmann Foundation and software firm Folge 3, as well as national ranking partners and stakeholder organisations. There is a possibility that a further two years of seed-funding will be invested into the project in 2015-2016, and the goal of the project is for an independent organisation to run the ranking thereafter.