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.