Monday, December 21, 2009

Does Size Really Matter?
Times Higher Education (THE) are keeping the "peer review" but possibly with new questions. According to a recent article they will be using the British pollsters Ipsos MORI to collect data.

"So we are delighted to confirm that for the 2010 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, our new rankings partner Thomson Reuters has commissioned one of the world's leading polling companies, Ipsos Mori, to carry out research to support the peer-review element of the tables. Using a professional polling company means that we can inject proper targeting and transparency into the process while ensuring that we get a much larger response rate than in the past - the aim is for at least 25,000 responses in 2010. It also means that the questions in the opinion survey can be carefully crafted to elicit meaningful and consistent responses while ensuring that every respondent knows what is being asked of them. "

THE seems to be overly concerned with the number of respondents, claiming that the 9,000 plus of the 2009 THE-QS rankings was an inadequate number to represent the millions of academics of one sort or another around the world. They are right to be concerned but the number of respondents is not the main determinant of the validity of any survey. What matters more is the extent to which the sample is representative of the population about which data is sought. If THE and if Ipsos MORI are going to do no more than get a lot of people to fill out online forms then their new survey will be little better than the old one.

If the rankings industry is going to descend into a squabble about who's got the biggest survey then QS might be able to trump THE. They could revive their retired respondents from 2004-06, purchase a large stash of email addresses from Mardev, make the survey more user-friendly (tick boxes instead of typing names) and they might well be able to get above the 25,000 mark.

The choice of Ipsos MORI, whose offices are in London, Harrow, Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin might be an indicator of a narrowing of vision. THE's editorial board, which seems to have become more active of late, is predominantly British with a heavy bias towards officialdom. Discussion about rankings in THES seems rather anglocentric. A subtle slip was Phil Baty's recent reference to "overseas" universities. They may be overseas to you but you are overseas to them and everybody else.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whither the QS Rankings?

While Times Higher Education is looking around for a new methodology, QS, judging from a recent conversation with Ben Sowter and Tony Martin and comments on its website, appears set on continuing with the old system perhaps with a bit of tweaking.

The need to maintain some sort of continuity is understandable, especially after the yo-yoing of some universities in recent editions of the THE-QS rankings. However, criticism of the rankings is such that it would seem a good idea to seize the opportunity to make some simple changes.

The least liked element of the THE-QS rankings of 2004-09 was the "peer review". It had, being based on the mailing lists of a Singapore-based publishing company with links to Imperial College London, an obvious geographical bias. The declared response rate was too low to meet conventional standards of face validity. Its weighting was too high. As a survey of research expertise it was quite redundant since citations are a far better measure of research impact and quality.

Furthermore, the "peer review" added to the overemphasis on research. The THE-QS rankings gave a 20 % weighting to citations, the faculty student ratio gave a big and obvious boost to universities with large numbers of non-teaching research-only faculty and then there was 40% for a research-based survey.

I would like to suggest a simple change. Keep the survey of academic opinion (and stop calling it a peer review because it is nothing of the sort) but use it to assess the general excellence or reputation, perhaps including teaching and student satisfaction, of universities. It is not credible that someone with a functioning mouse can sign up for the World Scientific list and became competent to assess the research performance of universities but he or she might have some idea of the general reputation of institutions. This would require minimal changes to the current procedure: all that is needed is to change the questions.

A couple of other refinements might be in order. The division of the academic world into three super-regions for weighting purposes is too crude. Latin America, Africa, Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia deserve to be treated as separate regions.

Telling everybody that you have sent 180,000 e-mails is asking for trouble if you are going to get a negligible response. It would be better to use the World Scientific lists to accumulate a list of people willing to participate in the survey, combine it with names collected from various events and then send out the survey. If nothing else, the response rate would be a little more respectable.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Ranking from SCImago

Tekmillinen Korkeakoulu-Tekniska Hogskolen in the top 400
Ollscoil Luimnigh just misses top 1000
Good showing by Debreceni Egyetem

SCImago, a research group based on Spanish universities has published SIR, SCImago Institutions Rankings, has published its 2009 report which includes a ranking of 2124 institutions, including research centres as well as universities.

There are five indicators, one of which, the number of publications in Scopus-indexed journals, is used for ranking.

There are some positive things about this ranking. It uses Scopus data: anything which reduces the emerging Thomson Reuters monopoly is welcome. It ranks more than two thousand places. It is quite transparent: I have checked a few institutions and the figures seem accurate.

The most striking thing about this index is that it shows that a vast amount of research is being done outside universities. The top three places for research output go to government research centres in France, China and Russia, lending support to French claims that current ranking systems fail to take account of their distinctive system of higher education and research.

One irritating thing about these rankings is the eccentric naming policy. Japanese universities are referred to by their Japanese names but Korean and Chinese ones are in English. Some New Zealand universities are listed with English and Maori names but the Universities of Auckland and Waikato are only in English. Dublin Institute of Technology is in Irish but Trinity College Dublin is in English. Some Saudi institutions are in English and some in Arabic. Three Israeli universities are in Catalan (or German without the umlaut!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

An Ancient Dinosaur Reborn?

Times Higher Education and some of its readers seem to be concerned about what they think is the low position of the London School of Economics (LSE) in previous rankings. It is true that institutions that specialise in the social sciences and humanities suffer from any ranking based on citations and publications since they produce longer and fewer papers with fewer authors and more books and use citations more sparingly than do those in the natural sciences and medicine. However, this seems to affect universities like Yale and Princeton as much as LSE. It would be quite simple for rankers to use some sort of weighting to reduce the disadvantage of such places and it would be an improvement if THE were to do this in any future ranking system.

But the concern with LSE is rather suspicious. Should specialist institutions be regarded as the equal of universities that excel in all disciplines? Perhaps THE should also think about the overrating of Oxford and Cambridge (take away the peer review from the THE-QS rankings of 2004-09 or the alumni and awards indicators from the Shanghai rankings and see where they are) as they discuss their new system.

It might be worth recalling a comment made by a THE reader back in October.

"It is always quite interesting to see that British institutions are still regarded as the top of the world. (I just compare it with the FT MBA rankings as well, where UK institutions dominate all rankings). As someone from the continent I only can say "Long live the British Empire!" It seems to me that the stereotype of British domination is still very alive in UK. A closer look at the British economy, engineering and scientifc achievements, however, reveals the the mental fraud. Travelling across UK, I often realize that UK is frozen in time. Sometimes the technology, housing and machines are like from a 3rd world. London Metro is like from 1899. Trains across the country are like in the 30s. Communication technology is like mid of last century. I would have reasoned that with all the best universities, as you have figured out yourself, only bright scientist and engineers evolve. It's an illusion. Travel across Europe, marvel at French TGV trains, drive German cars and have a look at Spanish solar power plants and you will see that others, with officially inferior schooling systems, have achieved far more. Your university ranking is an illusion, buried in century long self-perception of world dominance. I am sorry to write that, but it is true. The British dominance is long gone, same with academic instituions. Your ranking list is an ancient dinosaur."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Whither the Times Higher Rankings?

Times Higher Education has announced that it will be producing a new ranking system to replace the THE-QS World University Rankings.

THE does not seem to have much idea about where it is going. Its advisory committe (it would be interesting to find out who they are) is reported to have complained that the number of respondents in the peer review is too small and that the citations indicator is biased against the social sciences and the humanities.

Neither of these is very helpful. The small number of respondents is not for lack of trying by QS. They have been sending out nearly 200,000 e-mails a year. I doubt if there is very much anyone can do get many more respondents. What could be done and should be done is to improve the validity of the survey by clearly identifying the group whose opinion is being sought or using databases that are less obviously biased. The second problem could be dealt with quite easily by assigning appropriate weighting to the various dsicipline clusters.

THE has also published comments from readers about future directions for its rankings. Some of these seem unaware of the basic methods of the THE-QS rankings. One, for example wants to see an "increased number of academics interviewed" -- QS never interviewed anyone for its survey. Others want the rankings to include criteria that are of limited global comparabilty such as starting salaries or graduate job prospects.

Several readers are unhappy with what they feel is the unfairly low position of LSE. This would seem misplaced. The rankings are supposed to be of universities not of research institutes and offering a full range of courses ought to be a significant element in the assessment of a university.

Other readers are sceptical about the significance of internationalisation and there appears to be division about whether citations are an adaequate nmeasure of research quality.

The response so far appears to be predominantly British. If THE are going to listen to their readers it is likely that the obvious pro-British and even pro-Oxbridge bias of the old rankings will continue.

Anyone interested in taking part in a survey by Thomson Reuters and THE can do so by going here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Announcing GRAPE: Global Ranking of Academic Performance

I am surprised that nobody has thought of doing this before.

There are now six international university ranking systems and five of these, World University Rankings (THE-QS London), Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), International Professional Ranking of Higher Education Institutions (Ecole des Mines de Paris), Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities (Taiwan) and Global Ranking of Universities (Russia), provide a numerical score. I have simply added the scores for all universities that were in the top 30 on any one of these, converting the top score for The Paris and Taiwan rankings into 100. The top scorer in the composite ranking was of course Harvard which was awarded a composite score of 100. The other scores were then adjusted accordingly. Yale, Imperial College London, Northewestern and Waseda were not included in the Russian rankings so they were ranked according to their total score for the other four.

There are some interesting results. The University of Tokyo comes in second, with a good record for recent research and for CEOs of big companies. University College London and Imperial College perform poorly. Oxford and Cambridge are slipping a bit and Australian universities do badly.

Here then are the top 30 with the combined scores.

1. Harvard 100

2. University of Tokyo 79.91

3. MIT 74.05

4. Stanford 71.21

5. Columbia 62.61

6. Cambridge 61.87

7. Caltech 59.81

8. Oxford 59.29

9. University of Pennsylvania 57.65

10. Yale 57.00

11. Johns Hopkins 56.7

12. University of California Berkeley 55.22

13. Chicago 54.87

14. Cornell 53.42

15. Kyoto 53.42

16 . UCLA 53.07

17. Duke 52.66

18. Princeton 51.49

19. University College London 50.46

20. Michigan 49.19

21. Imperial College London 47.74

22. University of Washington Seattle 47.08

23. University of California San Diego 45.60

24. Toronto 45.46

25. Northwestern 46.09

26. University of Wisconsin Madison 42.98

27. Manchester 42.49

28. Edinburgh 42.46

29. McGill 42.41

30. University of Illinois Urbana Champagne 41.69

It is also intersting to look at the correlations between the specific rankings and the combined scores. The correlations (top 30 institutions only) are as follows.

Paris .818
Shanghai .815
Taiwan .773
Russia .652
THE-QS .491

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Readers may have noticed that some of the links on this page are no longer working. One reason for this is that the geocities site where I kept some items has been terminated by Yahoo.

I shall refrain from commenting on the ethics of this other than to say that it is not exactly the way for Yahoo to win friends of any sort.

I have now now started a website where I shall keep items relating to international university rankings such as news, papers, slides and so on.

The address is

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interesting Times

The announced divorce of Times Higher Education and QS looks like the beginning of a new era for international university rankings.

QS have announced that nothing will be changed. According to director Nunzio Quacquarelli, the QS World University Rankings, as they will now be called, will employ the same consistent and credible methodology and will be led by the same team of Quacquarelli, John O'Leary, Martin Ince and Ben Sowter that created the rankings in 2004.

The QS rankings have of course been very far from consistent. There have in fact been several significant changes since 2004. But the change of name may prove to be even more significant Many people, especially in the US and Southeast Asia are unaware that these rankings are not produced by THE and some actually are under the impression that they come from "the Times of London", a name sufficient in itself to guarantee the highest quality. Without the magic name will the QS rankings have the same impact?

Meanwhile, THE will have problems of its own. if they are only going to assess citations and publications using data from Thomson Reuters, they will end up producing a clone of the Shanghai rankings. If they try to be more adventurous they will run into the problem of time. Spending a few months waiting for advice from their editorial board (composed of university administrators?) and reading comments from readers could mean that they will not be able to produce a ranking in time. It might be a clever ploy for QS to bring their rankings forward by a month or two causing another problem for THE.

And what about the US News and World Report? They have their own arrangement with QS that will apparently remain unchanged. But will red-blooded Americans really go on accepting data, not from "the Times of London" but from a consulting firm that keeps getting North Carolina universities mixed up?


Friday, November 06, 2009

News from Shanghai

The latest edition of the Academic Ranking of World Universities published by Shanghai Jiaotong University contains few changes at the top. In the top 20 the only change is that Johns Hopkins and Tokyo swap the 19th and 20th places.

Further down is another matter.

I have counted six institutions that have fallen out of the top 500. They are:

University of Akron
University of Idaho
University of Tennessee Health Center
Medical College of Georgia
University of Maine at Orono
Mississipi State University

Sad news about Idaho, alma mater of Sarah Palin. No doubt this will be further ammunition for those who want to crow about the intellectual superiority of Joe Biden.

The American universities have been replaced by:

Universite Victor Segalen II Bordeaux, France
Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
Pompeu Fabra University, Spain
University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
King Saud University, Saudi Arabia
University of Tehran, Iran
Kyungpook University, Korea

The trend is clear. The US, except perhaps for the West coast, is declining. The Mediterranean, Southwest Asia and the Pacific Rim are rising.

The recent conference in Shanghai highlighted the rise of King Saud University, largely accomplished by the recruitment of highly cited researchers, which was pretty much the strategy underlying the dramatic ascent of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the University of Tehran, who showed a massive improvement in the number of publications in 2008.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


From Times Higher Education

"Times Higher Education has signed an agreement with Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading research-data specialist, to provide the data for its annual World University Rankings.

The magazine will develop a new rankings methodology in the coming months, in consultation with its readers, its editorial board of higher education experts and Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters will collect and analyse the data used to produce the rankings on behalf of Times Higher Education."

"QS, which has collected and analysed the rankings data for the past six years, will no longer have any involvement with Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings."

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Rise of Asia Part I

International university rankings have been around long anough to show signs of long term trends. Making sense of the THE QS rankings is, however, complicated by frequent changes of methodologyand occasional errors. The Shanghai rankings seem to be another matter. There has only been one significant change in method, in 2004 when articles in Nature and Science were counted for five years rather than three. It should be possible then to determine some general trends in research performance from 2004 and 2008.

These rankings do not indicate the exact position of universities but place them within broad bands. This is understandable but rather pointless since positions can be calculated from the component indicators in less than half an hour.

If we compare the positions of various universities then some interesting changes begin to emerge .

Between 2004 and 2008 Chinese universities have advanced steadily. Peking from 296th to 241st, Tsinghua from 213rd to 203rd, Nanjing from 330rd to 292nd, University of Science and Technology China from 333rd to 243rd, Zhejiang from 350th to 226th, Fudan from 372nd to 325th and Jilin from 478th to 430th.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University itself rose from 461st to 257th.

In addition, seven Chinese universities entered the rankings between 2004 and 2008.

Taiwanese universities also rose: National Taiwan University from 174th to 164th, National Tsing Hua Univeristy from 362nd to 309th and National Cheng Kung University from 408th to 305th.

The picture for Hong Kong universities is mixed. The University of Hong Kong , the Chinese University of Hong Kiong and City Univeristy of Hong Kong went up but the Hong Kong University of Science and Technlogy and the Kong Kong Polytechnic University went down.

In a little while we shall see whether these trends continue.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More Comments on the THE-QS Rankings

"Canadian universities among top 200 in the world should be supported to keep them there" from The Vancouver Sun

"To the unbiased observer, the THE-QS rankings appear to be designed to put colony-dominated UK institutions at the top, for what appear to be biased business-related reasons, and indeed, THE-QS puts 4 of the top 6 universities in the world in the United Kingdom. How convenient for the home field advantage! but scarcely science, and scarcely reliable."
from Law Pundit.

"UC Irvine’s status takes a hit in new ranking of the world’s top colleges and universities" from Orange County Register

"King Saud University, King Fahd University of Petrolem and Minerals Listed among World's Top" from Saudi Gazette

"As Asian neighbours gain academic clout, the Kingdom must establish clear targets for itself". John O'Leary in Phnom Penh Post

"Canberra still Home of Australia's Best Higher Education, ANU" NOWUC
More Information at QS

A lot more data can now be found at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How They Did It

According to university administrators, universities rise in the THE-QS rankings because of enlightened leadership, quality control exercises like key performance indicators, ISO compliance, professional development and so on, increasing the quantity and impact of research and internationalisation. When they fall it is, according to adminstrators, because of the manifest bias of the rankings or, according to disgruntled outsiders, beacause of adminsitrative deficiencies.

In this year's rankings, there have been quite a few substantial changes in both directions between 2008 and 2009. Here are some of the fortunate cases who experienced an improvement and some comments on what actually contributed to the changes.

University College London
Rose from 7th place (total score 98.1 ) to 4th (99), just behind Yale, largely because of an improvement of 2 points for the academic survey, which has a weighting of 40%.

Rose from 12th (95.7) to 8th (96.6) mainly because of an improvement in the student faculty ratio from 75 to 82 despite falling on 3 other indicators.

University of Toronto
A big improvement from 41st (81.1) to 29th (85.3) largely due to a whopping improvement in the faculty student ratio from 18 to 63, counteracting a fall for citations per faculty from 100 to 74.

University of Alberta
Rose from 74th (72.9) to 59th (75.4). This was almost entirely because of an improvement on the recruiter review from 48 to 71 points.

University of Oslo
A spectacular ascent from 177th (57.5) to 101st (62.9) in which strong gains on academic suvey, recruiter review and faculty student ratio (weighting of 70%) outweighed losses for citations per faculty and internationalisation (weighting of 30%).

Pohang University of Science and Technology
Rose 50 places from 184th to 134th propelled by an improvement in the academic survey from 37 to 53 points.

Keio University
Another remarkable rise from 214th (53.0) to 142nd (61.6) resulting from an improvement of 6 points on the academic survey and 38 for faculty student ratio, tempered by a 9 point fall for citations per faculty.

Chulalongkorn University
An improvement of 28 places caused mainly by a rise of 10 points on the academic survey.

Yonsei University
Rose from 203rd ( 54.1) to 151st (60.3). An improvement of 20 points for the academic survey more than compensated for declines in 4 other indicators.

In general then, ascent and descent within these rankings depends to a very large extent on the academic survey and faculty student ratio followed by the recruiter review. Changes in citations per faculty and international faculty and students have little impact, at least in the short run.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The 2008 THE-QS Rankings

I have hesitated about putting up this post since the missing rankings might be restored in a few days or even hours.

I am sure that many people have noticed that the pre-2009 THE-QS rankings can no longer be accessed at the topuniversities site and that the list of the top 400 universities now there only includes the total scores, not those for the indicators. The Times Higher Education site does have data on the indicators for 2009 and preceding years but only for the top 200 universities in each case.

This unfortunately means that it is impossible for readers to check the reasons for the rise or fall of universities between 2008 and 2009.

All is not lost. I have saved the page for 2008 that indicates the indicator scores for the top 400. Anyone interested in knowing the scores for a particular university in that year can just send a note via the comments sections.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How Universiti Malaya did it

A standard feature of the annual release of the THE QS rankings is the chorus of derision that greets the fall of a Malaysian university or of congratulation for a rise.

This year Universiti Malaya (UM) rose 50 places from 230 to 180.

Acccording to the Vice-Chancellor it was because:

"The redefinition of key performance indicators for the academics and the new initiatives implemented in international networking, recruitment of international staff and students have produced a quick, positive impact,” he said."

According to Ben Sowter, QS's head of research,

" UM’s resurgence into the top 200 was clearly impressive.
“The apparent collective effort at the university to attract a greater proportion of international students suggests a progressive outlook,” he said in an e-mail interview."

But was this what actually happened?

First, between 2008 and 2009 UM dropped quite a bit on the academic survey from 64 out of 100 to 60 (top score is 100 and the mean is 50) and on the recruiter survey from 70 to 68. This may have been the result of a subtle change in the surveys that required respondents to type in the name of selected universities rather than clicking and dragging from a list. This could have worked to the disadvantage of less well known universities.

The fall on the surveys was almost exactly balanced by a rise in the score for international students from 46 to 65 and for international faculty from 63 to 72. The effect of the change in these indicators was reduced by the low weighting thet they receive.

There was also a slight improvement in citations per faculty from 20 to 21.

UM had an overall improvement from 50.8 to 56.5. This was almost entirely the result of a massive improvement in the faculty student ratio indicator, from 38 to 68, worth a 6 full points on the weighted total.

In 2008 UM,according to QS's Top Universities Guide, had a ratio of 14.8 students per faculty.

According to the QS topuniversities web site, the ratio has fallen to 8.9 this year. This appears to have been achieved by reducing the number of students by about 6,000 and by increasing the number of faculty by about 600.

Performance indicators may get UM into the Shanghai or Taiwan rankings but they were not relevant in this particular case.
Comments on the 2009 THE-QS Rankings

This article by Kris Olds is worth reading. A couple of extracts:

"It seems as if the Times Higher has decided to allocate most of its efforts to promoting the creation and propagation of this global ranking scheme in contrast to providing detailed, analytical, and critical coverage of issues in the UK, let alone in the European Higher Education Area. Six steady years of rankings generate attention, advertising revenue, and enhance some aspects of power and perceived esteem. But, in the end, where is the Times Higher in analyzing the forces shaping the systems in which all of these universities are embedded, or the complex forces shaping university development strategies? Rather, we primarily seem to get increasingly thin articles, based on relatively limited original research, heaps of advertising (especially jobs), and now regular build-ups to the annual rankings frenzy. In addition, their partnership with QS Quacquarelli Symonds is leading to new regional rankings; a clear form of market-making at a new unexploited geographic scale. Of course there are some useful insights generated by rankings, but the rankings attention is arguably making the Times Higher lazier and dare I say, irresponsible, given the increasing significance of higher education to modern societies and economies."

"The discourse of “international” is elevated here, much like it was in the last Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the UK, with “international” codeword for higher quality. But international is just that – international – and it means nothing more than that unless we assess how good they (international students and faculty) are, what they contribute to the educational experience, and what lasting impacts they generate."
THE QS 2009

The 2009 rankings top 200 can now be seen here and here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Four Days To Go

Only four days to go before the publication of the 2009 THE-QS World university rankings.

The rankings will be published here and here.

Here is a trailer from THE

Will anyone be able to topple Harvard from the top spot? Has Cambridge still got the edge over Oxford? Can any nation break through the UK-US dominance of the top 10?

The first and third events seem extremely unlikely without some unannounced change in methodology although by most objective indicators the University of Tokyo ought to have a good chance. So I suspect that THE is hinting that Oxford will overtake Cambridge.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

University Supercomputers

The list of the worlds most powerful computers includes a number operated by universities. Among those in the top 100 are:

University of Tennessee
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia
University of Toronto
University of Tokyo
University of Tsukuba, Japan
University of Minnesota
University of Edinburgh
University of Southern California
Kyoto University
Moscow State University
Umea University, Sweden
Clemson University, USA
University of Bergen, Norway

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Quality of Law Schools

A recent post raised questions about what it takes to be an education professor in the US. However, a recent exchange in The Chronicle of Higher Education makes one wonder whether faculties of law are much better.

Nancy Lemon teaches Law at the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of a well known textbook on domestic violence. She has been taken to task by Christina Hoff Sommers of including errors in the textbook.

Lemon’s attempted rebuttal is interesting. Summers takes issue with her claim that a very large proportion of women admitted to hospital emergency rooms were victims of domestic violence. Lemon’s response is to cite figures that show that a large proportion of the women admitted because of violence were victims of domestic violence, apparently not realising that she is moving the argumentative goalposts quite a lot. Lemon also insists that March of Dimes, a well known charitable organization, had sponsored a study that showed that battered women were more likely to have miscarriages when in fact the organisation’s involvement was peripheral.

Lemon’s worst error was her solemn claim that the traditional chroniclers of Rome were totally accurate and that Romulus, when not busy being suckled by a wolf and watching birds, had promulgated a misogynist law allowing men to beat their wives, which "continued into England" It is bad enough that Lemon is totally credulous about traditional historians but that she has apparently never heard of the Anglo-Saxon conquest that removed Roman law from England and prevented any transmission into common law is remarkable.
Outcomes-based Education Watch

Outcomes-based Education (OBE) is sweeping across Australia, the UK, Malaysia and other countries. I am sure that OBE is not the whole story, but if this news from South Africa is any guide the results are likely to be very negative.

"South African vice-chancellors warned the government last week to expect more students to drop out, as the shocking results of pilot national benchmark tests revealed that only 7% of first-year students are proficient in mathematics, only a quarter are fully quantitatively literate and fewer than half have the academic literacy skills needed to succeed without support.


SOUTH AFRICA: Shocking results from university tests
Karen MacGregor16 August 2009 Issue: 0035
South African vice-chancellors warned the government last week to expect more students to drop out, as the shocking results of pilot national benchmark tests revealed that only 7% of first-year students are proficient in mathematics, only a quarter are fully quantitatively literate and fewer than half have the academic literacy skills needed to succeed without support."The challenge faced by higher education institutions in relation to mathematics is clearly enormous," according to a draft report produced for the vice-chancellors' association Higher Education South Africa (HESA) by the National Benchmark Tests Project."With the current emphasis on the production of graduates in scarce skills areas such as engineering and science, the need for curriculum responsiveness and remediation in this area is urgent," said the report, obtained by University World News, which is still to be considered by HESA.Last week HESA chairman, Professor Theuns Eloff, told parliament's higher education committee that most first-year students could not adequately read, write or comprehend - and universities that conduct regular competency tests have reported a decline in standards.While undergraduate enrolments had been growing by about 5% a year, and black students now comprised 63% of enrolment, there was concern about high drop out (around 50%) and low graduation rates, especially among black students. Only a third of students obtain their degrees within five years.HESA's findings from the benchmark project make it clear that South Africa's school system is continuing to fail its pupils and the country, and that universities will need to do a lot more to tackle what appear to be growing proficiency gaps.One reason for declining educational performance, Eloff argued, was flaws in the country's outcomes based education system. "You don't learn to spell and comprehend, and that's nonsense," he said. The Times newspaper commented: "So far, the only outcome from the outcomes-based education system is university students who can't read and write." "

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Discipline of Rankings

This is the title of an article by Michael Sauder and Wendy Nelson Espeland in the American Sociological Review. The Foucaultian jargon is not to my taste but underneath it there is a sensible and data-backed article on the prevasive and negative effects of rankings on US law schools.

Here is the abstract:

"The Discipline of Rankings: Tight
Coupling and Organizational Change

Michael Sauder Wendy Nelson Espeland
University of Iowa Northwestern University

This article demonstrates the value of Foucault’s conception of discipline for
understanding organizational responses to rankings. Using a case study of law schools,
we explain why rankings have permeated law schools so extensively and why these
organizations have been unable to buffer these institutional pressures. Foucault’s
depiction of two important processes, surveillance and normalization, show how
rankings change perceptions of legal education through both coercive and seductive
means. This approach advances organizational theory by highlighting conditions that
affect the prevalence and effectiveness of buffering. Decoupling is not determined solely
by the external enforcement of institutional pressures or the capacity of organizational
actors to buffer or hide some activities. Members’ tendency to internalize these
pressures, to become self-disciplining, is also salient. Internalization is fostered by the
anxiety that rankings produce, by their allure for the administrators who try to
manipulate them, and by the resistance they provoke. Rankings are just one example of
the public measures of performance that are becoming increasingly influential in many
institutional environments, and understanding how organizations respond to these
measures is a crucial task for scholars.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Case of Dyslexia

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States has focused attention on two cases that came before her, both involving people afflicted with dyslexia.

The better known of these is that of Frank Ricci, a New Haven, Connecticut fireman denied promotion because not enough members of racial minorities were able to pass the firefighters’ test along with him.

The other involved Marilyn Bartlett who wanted to be a lawyer. Before attempting to switch professions she had a notably successful academic career, earning her first degree in Education from the State College at Worcester, Massachusetts, her master’s in Special Education from Boston University (84th in the 2008 Shanghai rankings) and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from New York University (32nd). She has taught English in Germany and has been an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of South Florida (201-302) and Director of Graduate Studies as well as Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Technology at the New York Institute of Technology. She is now Dean of the School of Education at Texas A & M University - Kingsville.

She has also been a law clerk, an assistant superintendent of schools and a special education coordinator

We are further told that:

“She has seven articles in progress and has published numerous articles in encyclopedias, proceedings, periodicals, book chapters and reports. Her first book – an examination of education law in Florida – is due to be published this fall.
In 2006, she received the Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Education at the University of Florida St. Petersburg and in 1999, Bartlett received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by LD Access, a foundation focused on needs of learning disabled adults.
Bartlett is a member of the American Education Research Association, the American Association for School Administrators, the Educational Law Association and the National Council of Professors of Educational Administrators.”

However, three students on ratemyprofessors speak of her in less than glowing terms: “not very student friendly”, “horrible and incompetent” and "incompetent and not up to date on the educational needs".

After taking a degree in law at Vermont Law School, Bartlett took the New York bar exam four times and failed on each occasion. She then requested special accommodation because of a claimed disability, dyslexia. She was allowed to use a computer, to have an assistant to read the answers and to have 50 per cent extra time. However, she still failed.

The case then came before Sotomayer and evidence was presented that

“The effect of plaintiff's reading impairment on her life, even with all of her self-accommodations, is profound. Cf. 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. A § 1630.2(j) ("The determination of whether an individual has a disability is . . . based on . . . the effect of that impairment on the life of the individual."). Plaintiff has difficulty with tasks that most people perform effortlessly, including reading short e-mails, using a telephone directory or electronic database, writing a shopping list, or following a recipe. (Bartlett Aff. PP 11, 12, 13, 22.) Plaintiff generally avoids reading any unnecessary material and does not read for pleasure. (Bartlett Aff. PP9, 10, 14.) As plaintiff and her experts stated, plaintiff consistently tries to find alternative routes around reading. Dr. Hagin [*119] testified that based on her experience, plaintiff's "reading was more limited than the average person I might see, even the average person with a learning disability." (Tr. at. 163.) “

However, even with the accommodations mandated by Judge Sotomayor, Bartlett could not pass the bar exam and apparently has now stopped trying

I am surely not alone in wondering about the common sense involved in requiring somebody to demonstrate serious incompetence in a key professional skill so that they may be assisted to gain entrance to a profession. Perhaps a lawyer can explain why people should not be allowed to show extreme cowardice or pyrophobia to be fast tracked into a fire department or serious myopia to become an airline pilot.

What I am concerned with here is what the case says about basic academic standards at American schools of education.

I assume that Bartlett really is dyslexic, although faking is apparently not impossible, indeed not uncommon, and that the accommodations granted during graduate school and after were not a substitute for intelligence but devices necessary to allow it to function. (G. H. Harrison, M.J. Edwards, K. C. H. Parker, Identifying students feigning dyslexia: Preliminary findings and strategies fordetection. Dyslexia 14/3, 228-246)

We still have to explain how it is possible for someone who cannot acquire the basic knowledge or skills to enter the legal profession can not only complete a doctoral degree and therefore be certified as an authority on education but go on to become a recognized academic leader.

The only answer I can think of is that the minimum intellectual ability required to start a legal career are very much higher than those needed to rise to the top in education.
Commentary on Best Colleges 2010

Rankings Frenzy 09 in Inside Higher Ed

Elyse Ashburn in the Chronicle of higher Education

Bob Morse on Makiing Sure the Coillege Data Are Correct in Morse Code
Best Colleges 2010

The US News and WorldReport's Best Colleges 2010 is out. The top ten national universities are :

1 = Harvard and Princeton
3. Yale
4 = Caltech, MIT, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania
8 = Columbia, Chicago
10. Duke

Monday, August 17, 2009

The CCAP/Forbes Rankings

The CCAP (Center for College Affordability and Productivity)/Forbes rankings are rather different from the rest, being emphatically based on outcomes rather than spending.

One quarter of the weighting of these rankings is for student satisfaction, based on scores from the ratemyprofessors site, another quarter on graduate success derived from Who's Who in America and, a quarter from current students success -- graduation rates and winners of national student awards, a fifth for the debt incurred by students and five per cent for faculty quality.

Richard Vedder the director of CCAP claims that the rankings are relatively difficult to manipulate. Up to a point this is true. I cannot see much that anyone could do about Who's Who. But if these rankings ever overtook the USNWR rankings there could well be a lot of fiddling with graduation rates and innovative financial aid packages .

Anyway, the overall top five are .

1. US Military Aacadamy
2. Princeton
3. Caltech
4. Williams College
5. Harvard

The top five best value colleges are

1. Berea College, Kentucky
2. New College of Florida
3. US Miltary Academy
4. US Air Force Academy
5. University of Wyoming

The top five national research universities are:

1. Princeton
2. Caltech
3. Harvard
4. Yale
5. Stanford
Only Three Days Left

This is from The Morse Code

"It's getting very close to the launch of the new America's Best Colleges rankings. The 2010 edition will be published on Thursday, August 20, which is the day the new rankings go live on our website. The site will have the most complete version of the rankings, tables, and lists, plus extensive profiles on each school. The America's Best Colleges website also will have wide-ranging interactivity as well as a newly upgraded search feature to enable students and parents to find the school that best fits their needs.
These exclusive rankings will also be published in the magazine's September 2009 issue and in our newsstand guidebook, both of which will go on sale around August 20. The
main rankings include the national universities, liberal arts colleges, master's universities, and baccalaureate colleges by region. In addition, there will be one new ranking to show which schools have the greatest "commitment to undergraduate teaching." For the second year in row, we will publish the very popular list of "Up-and-Coming Institutions"—the colleges making innovative improvements. In addition, we will have our third annual ranking of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. "

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life Imitates Art

In 2005 Duke University made an impressive showing in the THES-QS World University Rankings largely because someone at Quacquarelli Symonds counted undergraduate students as faculty. (see post January 29, 2007)

Perhaps it was not really an error. It looks like at least one Duke professor is intent on handing over over her teaching duties to her students

Cathy Davidson, a Duke professor, has told us about her "innovative' grading policies.

"I loved returning to teaching last year after several years in administration . . . except for the grading. I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning in a class on new modes of digital thinking (including rethining [sic or perhaps not -- maybe she means making even less substantial] evaluation) than by assigning a grade. It turns learning (which should be a deep pleasure, setting up for a lifetime of curiosity) into a crass competition: how do I snag the highest grade for the least amount of work? how do I give the prof what she wants so I can get the A that I need for med school? That's the opposite of learning and curiosity, the opposite of everything I believe as a teacher, and is, quite frankly, a waste of my time and the students' time. There has to be a better way . . .

So, this year, when I teach "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," I'm trying out a new point system. Do all the work, you get an A. Don't need an A? Don't have time to do all the work? No problem. You can aim for and earn a B. There will be a chart. You do the assignment satisfactorily, you get the points. Add up the points, there's your grade. Clearcut. No guesswork. No second-guessing 'what the prof wants.' No gaming the system. Clearcut. Student is responsible.

And how to judge quality, you ask? Crowdsourcing. Since I already have structured my seminar (it worked brilliantly last year) so that two students lead us in every class, they can now also read all the class blogs (as they used to) and pass judgment on whether they are satisfactory. Thumbs up, thumbs down. If not, any student who wishes can revise. If you revise, you get the credit. End of story. Or, if you are too busy and want to skip it, no problem. It just means you'll have fewer ticks on the chart and will probably get the lower grade. No whining. It's clearcut and everyone knows the system from day one. (btw, every study of peer review among students shows that students perform at a higher level, and with more care, when they know they are being evaluated by their peers than when they know only the teacher and the TA will be grading).

So, every class is led by two students. An A is awarded for showing up for class, doing the work and having it judged as satisfactory by classmates or revising it after being judged unsatisfactory.

If classes are led by students, who also chose the reading and writing assignments and evaluate class contributions, and work is graded by students, then what is Professor Davidson being paid for?

Another point. Professor Davidson claims that all studies show that students perform at a higher level when they know they are being evaluated by peers rather than only by a teacher and a teaching assistant. We could of course argue about whether every study shows this and what a higher level means. But note that the studies are comparing students graded by peers and, presumably, instructors with those graded only by teacher and TA. From what Professor Davidson tells us grading in her class is done only by students and therefore the results of such studies cannot be used to support her claims.

note -- acknowledgement to Durham-in Wonderland

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The New Taiwan Rankings

The new Performance Ranking of Scientific papers for World Universities is out.

This is based on a variety of measures derived from Essential Science Indicators database. It is therefore more orientated towards quality than the THE-QS rankings which use the more comprehensive but less selective Scopus database.

These rankings may become more influential in the future so it might be worthwhile making a few comments. First, like nearly all rankings there is a bias towards the citation-heavy natural sciences. Second, it may be that the number of indicators, eight, is too many since some at least may simply be counting the same thing. Third, there is no attempt to measure anything other than research.

Still, the current rankings are important. Looking at the overall index, we find that Oxbridge and some of the Ivy League schools are definitely slipping, deprived of the support from the THE-QS academic survey and the aging or dead laureates of the Shanghai index. Cambridge is in 15th place, Yale 16th, Oxford 17th and Princeton 38th.

Here are the top five.

1. Harvard
2. Johns Hopkins
3. Stanford
4. University of Washington at Seattle

I am wondering about the University of Washington, which is 16th in the Shanghai rankings and 59th in the THE-QS.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Selecting for the Supreme Court ... and Perhaps Universities

It took a while for me to decide that this article by David G. Savage in the San Francisco Chronicle was not a parody. It is nonetheless worth reading carefully. Much of it will sound familiar to those who are aware of the ongoing debate about how university students and faculty should be selected.

The article begins:

"Justice Sonia Sotomayor will bring something new to the U.S. Supreme Court, far beyond her being its first Latina member."

And what will she bring? Savage approvingly lists the attributes that will justify her appointment to the Supreme Court.

  • She will be the only judge whose first language is not English.
  • She is diabetic.
  • She grew up in a housing project where drugs and crime were more common than "Ivy League scholarly success".
  • Her SAT scores were not very good but she managed to graduate first in her class at Princeton.
  • "[She] is also a divorced woman with no children but a close relationship with an extended family.
    "She is a modern woman with a nontraditional family," said Sylvia Lazos, a law professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "She is much more reflective of contemporary American society than the other justices, like Alito and Roberts."
    She was referring to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both of whom are married and have two children. The court soon is expected to face a series of cases involving the legal rights of other nontraditional families with gay and lesbian couples. "
  • She has had trouble paying her mortgage and credit cards.
  • She has been a prosecutor and a trial judge.
  • She will be one of two minorities on the court, the other being Clarence Thomas, and the only one who supports Affirmative Action. Apparently Jews, Italians and WASPs are not minorities.

So Sotomayor is qualified for the highest judicial office in the United States because she is a speaker of English as a second language, a diabetic, not a good test taker but hard working, divorced, childless, a member of a recognised minority, a supporter of Affirmative Action and a poor financial manager.

The time will come, I suspect, when these will be essential qualifications for faculty positions in the US and elsewhere.

And will someone please explain to me why Sotomayor's childlessness is more reflective of contemporary American society than Roberts's and Alito's two children apiece. Or is Professor Lazos living in a parallel universe where the American fertility rate is zero?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sharing the Pain

From the Hawaii Star-Bulletin

David Ross, chairman of the University of Hawaii-Manoa Faculty Senate's Executive Committee, claims that the university's ranking performance means that they should not have to take a pay cut.

"Recently we heard the good news that the University of Hawaii Foundation had raised $330 million in charitable donations over a six-year period. What got less press attention was that the UH faculty had raised over $400 million in grant support, not over six years but in a single year. At the same time we learned that top UH executives, who earn mainly at or above the national average, were taking voluntary pay cuts by up to 10 percent, while lower-level executives would be cut 6 percent to 7 percent. Meanwhile, UH faculty, who (despite some recent raises) still earn well below our colleagues at peer institutions, are being asked to take a 15 percent cut. ...

By many independent measures, UH-Manoa remains one of the great universities in the world. We're one of only 63 public universities in the country with the highest Carnegie Foundation classification. The best-known international ranking of universities ranks us as tied for 59th in the Western Hemisphere.

These rankings are based on the quality of our faculty and programs, not our buildings or athletic records. At this level UHM is in intense competition for the best faculty, grants and students. It is not a coincidence that our successes in recent years, academic and financial, have followed the rebuilding of our faculty, both in size and in salary. We are worried that
decisions being made right now by the state and the system will not only undo the recent progress we have made, but cause irreversible harm to our competitive standing. We are already losing faculty, and the cuts will make it di cult to recruit outstanding new faculty members and the research programs that they can develop. Since university rankings are based primarily on a faculty's reputation and grants, our hard-earned status as a research-extensive university could fall into jeopardy. "

Sad, but there's an army of adjuncts and underemployed Ph Ds out there who would work at those reduced salaries or less and who are just as or better qualified.
Russia Loves Rankings

From Newsweek

" Paradoxical as it seems, one of the former Soviet states with a more pragmatic approach is Russia itself. To be sure, the Kremlin's fear of a color revolution means that touchy political subjects aren't taught. And there are no U.S.-accredited universities or American academic programs. But Russian authorities have recently begun allowing universities to open up—even if that means greater exposure to outside ideas. Many Russian schools, for example, have started reviving academic exchanges with Western universities. Their motivation is simple: desperation. Last year, not a single Russian university made it into the top 100 of a world ranking put out by Quacquarelli Symonds, a U.S.-based compiler of international university standards. Even Moscow State University, the pride of Russia's education system, slid from 97th place in 2007 to 180th in 2008.

To stop the rot, last year Prime Minister Vladimir Putin founded two new universities, bankrolling them to the tune of $300 million. More important, "education policymakers gave a signal to Russian universities to quickly embrace all the most innovative international programs, and now nothing is stopping them from inviting or hiring as many U.S. professors as they can," says Andrei Volkov, an adviser to the minister of education and rector of Moscow's Skolkovo School of Management. Accordingly, Moscow University recently signed a cooperation deal with the State University of New York to share students and award joint diplomas, and 65 U.S. visiting professors are working in Moscow this year. Another joint agreement with the University of Southern California is due to be inked this fall. "

I wonder if somone should tell Putin that until last year three out of four university centers in the SUNY system were not even listed in the THE-QS rankings.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

More Dumbing Down

This is from TES Connect via butterfiesandswheels

"Exams for an Evangelical Christian curriculum in which pupils have been taught that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution and racial segregation is beneficial have been ruled equivalent to international A- levels by a UK government agency.

The National Recognition Information Centre (Naric), which guides universities and employers on the validity of different qualifications, has judged the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) officially comparable to qualifications offered by the Cambridge International exam board.

Hundreds of teenagers at around 50 private Christian schools in Britain study for the certificates, as well as several home-educated students."

This is the interesting bit:

"Mrs Lewis [spokesperson for the International Certificate of Christian Education]had not noticed the Loch Ness monster claims, which she suggested may have been a “slip at the typewriter”, adding that the science curriculum had helped a student to gain a place to study natural sciences at Oxford University[4th in the world according to THE-QS."
Dumbed Down Degrees

This is from today's Observer

"Universities were yesterday embroiled in a furious row over dumbing down after a parliamentary inquiry revealed the number of first-class degrees had almost doubled in a decade. Amid the war of words, senior Tories vowed to publish data that they claimed would reveal the true value of degrees.

Different universities demand "different levels of effort" from students to get similar degrees, according to the report from the commons select committee on innovation, universities and skills, suggesting that top grades from some colleges were not worth the same as others. "

And what is the cause of this grade inflation?

"Gillian Evans, a lecturer in mediaeval theology at Oxford University and an expert in university regulation, attributed the rise to universities' desire to move up published league tables.
"I am quite sure the reason proportions have gone up is exactly the same as the reasons A-levels have gone up: it's straightforward grade inflation, chasing a place in league tables," she said."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Highlights from the New Webometrics Rankings

Top USA and Canada

1. MIT
2. Harvard
3. Stanford
4. Berkeley
5. Cornell

Top Europe

1. Cambridge
2. Oxford
3. Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich
4. University College London
5. University of Helsinki

Top Oceana

1. Australian National University
2. University of Queensland
3. Monash University
4. University of Melbourne
5. University of Sydney

Top South East Asia

1. National University of Singapore
2. Prince of Songkhla University
3. Chulalongkorn University
4. Kasetsart Universiy
5. Mahidol University

Top Arab World

1. King Saud University
2. King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
3. Imam Muhamed bin Saud University
4. King Faisal University
5. King Abdulaziz university
Webometrics Rankings

This is from Ranking Web of Universities

"The July edition of the Ranking Web of World Universities ( shows important news. Most of them are due to changes done to improve the academic impact of the open web contents and to reduce the geographical bias of search engines. As a result, the US universities still lead the Ranking (MIT with its huge Open Courseware is again the first, followed by Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley), but the digital gap with their European counterparts (Cambridge and Oxford are in the region’s top) has been reduced. Even more important, some of the developing countries institutions reach high ranks, especially in Latin America where the University of Sao Paulo (38th) and UNAM (44th) benefits from the increasingly interconnected Brazilian and Mexican academic webspaces.Several countries improves their performance including Taiwan and Saudi Arabia with strong web oriented strategies, Czech Republic (Charles), the leader for Eastern Europe, Spain (Complutense) and Portugal (Minho, Porto) with huge repositories and strong Open Access initiatives. Norway (NTNU, Oslo), Egypt could be also mentioned.On the other side, the underrated are headed by France, with a very fragmented system, Korea, whose student-oriented websites are frequently duplicated, New Zealand, India or Argentina.Africa is still monopolized by South African universities (Cape Town is the first, 405th), as well as Australian Universities are the best ranked for Oceania (Australian National University, 77th)Other well performing institutions include Cornell or Caltech in the USA, Tokyo (24th) Toronto (28th), Hong Kong (91st), or Peking (104th). On the contrary, in positions below expected we find Yale, Princeton, Saint Petersburg, Seoul and the Indian Institutes of Science or Technology."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ranking Schools by Salary

The Payscale site has produced a ranking of American schools and colleges by the salaries that its graduates earn.

Here are the top five engineering colleges by median mid-career salary:

1. MIT
2. Harvey Mudd
3. Stanford
4. Bucknell University
5. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

the top five Ivy League schools;

1. Dartmouth College
2. Harvard
3. Princeton
4. Yale
5. University of Pennsylvania

the top five liberal arts colleges;

1. Colgate University
2. Bucknell University
3. Swarthmore University
4. Amherst College
5. Haverford College

and the top five state universities;

1. Berkeley
2. Colorado School of Mines
3. Georgia Institute of Technology
4. New Jersey Institute of technology
5. University of California at San Diego.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What does Internationalisation Mean?

In THE-QS rankings universities get 10 per cent for the proportion of international students and international faculty. Does this measure say anything about the quality of a university?

Maybe. But one thing it says something about is simply the size of the country in which the university is located. There is a moderate negative correlation between the score for international faculty of the top 400 universities in the 2008 rankings and population of .332 and of .326 between international students and population.

This may help to explain why Hong Kong universities have been doing so well lately compared with those in Mainland China.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Paris Rankings are out

L'Ecole des Mines de Paris has produced its third Professional Ranking of World Universities. This is based solely on the number of CEOs of Fortune's top 500 companies. The top 5 in order are Tokyo, Harvard, Stanford, Waseda and Seoul national universities. Five French schools are in the top 20 and in general France performs much better on these rankings than any other, which, one suspects, might be the whole point of the enterprise.

According to University World News

Interviewed in the online higher education publication Educpros, Nicolas Cheimanoff, director of studies of Mines Paris
Tech, explained the aims of the rankings: "In France we were challenged into taking action, to say we could not base arguments exclusively on the Shanghai ranking and construct higher education policy solely on this ranking.

"We wanted to show at an international level that France is a country where you can study. Our ranking gives visibility to a school, but also to the system of French higher education as a whole."Cheimanoff said Mines Paris Tech had been in contact with Professor Liu, originator of the Shanghai rankings, to suggest Jiao Tong should incorporate the Mines crterion. "He was a priori in favour but only if we included the academic careers of company heads since 1920 as he did for
the Nobel prizewinners. But that's totally impossible."

The Paris rankings do correlate quite well with others indicating they are measuring some sort of quality. However, the performance of French, Japanese and Korean schools may say more about the recruitment and immigration policies of their countries than anything else.

Also, one wonders whether producing the CEO of General Motors is indicative of the real quality of Duke and Harvard.

The frightening thing is that it probably is.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Ranking System for the Philippines

Another national ranking system is on the way.

The Commission on Higher Education (Ched) will come up with a ranking system of the best schools in specific fields of study or discipline, an official said today.

“We may come up (with the ranking system) within the
year,” said Ched executive director Julito Vitriolo said in a phone
interview. As of the moment, Vitriolo said Ched is now compiling the
licensure examination results on different fields of study in various colleges and universities nationwide.

See here for more.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Presentations from the fourth International Rankings Expert Group Conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, are available here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is There a q Factor in University Ranking?

Although the Shanghai rankings show a high correlation with other rankings (based on a tiny sample of US universities) the HEEACT rankings from Taiwan (Performance Ranking for Scientific Papers for World Universities) do somewhat better. The correlation with THE-QS is .740, the Shanghai ARWU .984, the USNWR America's best Colleges .711, Professional Ranking of World Universities .920 and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity .700.

All these rankings measure diffent things. The USNWR measures a variety of indicators related directly or indirectly to the quality of instruction, the CCAP is quite definitely a consumer-orintated ranking, the THES-QS World University Rankings are largely a measure of research performance (reputational survey, citations per faculty and student faculty ratio where researchers are counted in the faculty), the Professional Renking of World Universities counts CEOs of top companies while the Shanghai and Taiwan rankings focus entirely on research, mainly in the natural sciences.

The ability of the Taiwan rankings to predict scores on the other rankings suggests that underlying various measures of university quality is a single q factor, the average intelligence of its faculty. If there is one single number that would tell you about the general quality of a school than it would probably be the average IQ of the faculty, although performance on standardised tests, publications and citations (especially in the hard sciences) and postgraduate degrees might be goood proxies. The strength of the Taiwan rankings would be their focus on research productivity alone.

Incidently, if anyone from HEEACT reads this, please think of a new name for your rankings. PROSPWU is not exactly a memorable acronym.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ranking the Rankings

University rankings are popping up everywhere. So how do they compare with one another? One way is to check the correlation between the total scores of the rankings. Here, correlations have been calculated for the scores of ten US universities (every tenth university in the Shanghai rankings excluding those not in the THE-QS top 400).

It seems that the Shanghai ARWU is the most valid of five rankings Correlations for total scores are .796 with the THE-QS, .712 with the USNWR America's Best Colleges, .896 for the Professional Ranking of World Universities (Paris) and .628 for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

It looks like on the basis of this extremely small and unrepresentative sample that if you had to pick just one ranking to rely on then it would have to be the Shanghai ARWU.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

International Rankings Expert Group Conference in Kazakhstan

I have just returned from the International Rankings Expert Group’s fourth conference in Astana, Kazakstan. There were some positive developments at the conference but also a few disappointments.

Starting with the negative aspects, there seems to be a global trend to the proliferation of national rankings which are increasingly and unnecessarily detailed and which impose a serious burden on teachers and researchers.. A case in point is the new ranking produced for Kazakhstan which includes just about every variable imaginable from "the number of Dissertation Councils" to "the availabilty of medical centers, sport halls, preventoriums, recreation zones". Very few at the conference seemed aware of the backwash effect of the rankings boom as universities outside the top 500 create their own rankings or compete for irrelevant awards, medals or certificates. Drudges in the periphery of the world university system now face an endless round of form filling, office tidying, meetings, committees and professional development activities which make teaching difficult and genuine research, as opposed to research-like behaviour, close to impossible.

The European Union ranking project was presented in some detail but I suspect is going to make little impact since it appears largely concerned with making fine distinctions between the research capabilities of faculties and departments.

There was a presentation about the Lisbon project which proposed to ignore research altogether and measure teaching excellence. This is an interesting idea but it seems to miss two important points. One reason for emphasizing the measurement of research is that the qualities required for research, general cognitive ability, reading and writing skills, conscientiousness and interest in a subject also correlate to some extent with teaching ability, however that is measured. Also, the assumption that learning is dependent on teaching which in turn must be regulated by a centralized bureaucracy is surely false, at least for the more able students

Positive developments include a trend towards personalized rankings where consumers assign their own weighting to indicators. There is an interesting project under way in Taiwan.

Richard Vedder introduced a ranking that has the merit of being based largely on publicly accessible data. The basic idea is excellent but there are some issues to be dealt with. Using RateMyProfessors is not a bad way to assess the quality of teaching but to be really valid there needs to be some adjustment for the grades awarded by the instructor. Using the American Who’s Who is also potentially interesting – and could well be applied internationally -- but there are of course obvious issues of bias.

He also gave a presentation without using PowerPoint. I must remember that next time I fill in a form about my innovative teaching methodology.

One measure presented was to create an IREG seal of approval. The logo is ready. I am not sure though whether this is going to be effective.

Overall, the conference has strengthened my conviction that if ranking is to be done it should not be by administrators or businesses but by universities themselves.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A New Atlantic Alliance?

Recently, the US News and World Report expanded its rankings portfolio to include the World’s 100 Best Universities. This turned out to be nothing more than the THE-QS World University Rankings with a rebranding for the US market. Now the USNWR has gone a step further and produced a list of the world’s top 400 universities along with sundry regional and subject rankings. Once again, this is the QS rankings with a new name.

This is no doubt a shrewd move for QS who are now marketing their rankings on both sides of the Atlantic and appear to be on the way to establishing a near monopoly over the international ranking business. It could, however, be risky for USNWR. People are bound to wonder why it should link up with a company that has a history of errors where American universities are concerned. In 2007 QS got their North Carolina business schools mixed up and as a result caused Fortune magazine to withdraw its business school rankings based on QS data. Will US students and stakeholders forgive the USNWR if its data includes things like a near zero for research for Washington University in St Louis or an unbelievably good score for Duke for student faculty ratio?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Alternative Global Ranking


Finally the decision on who has won the European Commission’s million euro tender – to develop and test a global ranking of universities – has been announced.

The successful bid – the CHERPA network (or the Consortium for Higher Education and Research Performance Assessment), is charged with developing a ranking system to overcome what is regarded by the European Commission as the limitations of the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS-Times Higher Education schemes. The final product is to be launched in 2011.

CHERPA is comprised of a consortium of leading institutions in the field within Europe; all have been developing and offering rather different approaches to ranking over the past few years (see our earlier stories here, here and here for some of the potential contenders):CHE – Centre for Higher Education Development (G├╝tersloh, Germany)Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente (Netherlands)Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University (Netherlands)Research division INCENTIM at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium)Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques (OST) in ParisEuropean Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI)European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rankings do matter

One of the most dangersous things about university rankings is that they are becoming -- in parts of Asia at any rate -- symbols of national grandeur or decline, attracting almost as much public concern and interest as the World Cup.

Dr Hsu has an interesting post on the divergent histories of Singapore and Malaysia that contains this comment:

Incidentally, I think this university ranking [almost certainly he means THE-QS] can be taken as representative of everything comparative among the 2 countries.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Publish and Pay

There is a growing trend towards open access academic publishing where researchers have to pay for publication. Open access is in principle a good idea but the idea of authors rather than subscribers footing the bill has its dangers.

Firstly, it poses a threat to new academic journals in emerging countries. There are, I suspect quite a few researchers who would find it more convenient to spend a few hundred dollars, especially if comes out of grant money, for speedy and "prestigious" international publication rather than writing for a local journal with limited impact.

Secondly, there is a definite threat to standards if criteria for publication are to relaxed or perhaps even abandoned altogether. 

Recently, Philip Davis and Kent Anderson sent a totally nonsensical computer generated paper to the Open Information Science Journal. It was accepted, supposedly after peer review, with a request for the payment of $800 in author's fees. In this case, at least, the peer review process had apparently been dropped altogther.

For more information see The Scientist and the "authors'" blog, The Scholarly Kitchen.

In all fairness, it must be pointed out that another computer generated paper submitted to another journal run by the same company journal was rejected and that one reviewer at least figured out what was going on.

Still, this does have disturbing implications. If publication becomes influenced or even determined by ability to pay then we are heading for the complete corruption of the peer review system.

It would be a good idea if universities refused to consider articles in pay for publication journals as evidence for selection or promotion. Perhaps also, Scopus and other databases could list such journals in a separate category.

Anyway, here is an extract from the first paper:

"In this section, we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware [10]. On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation [9]."