Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ranking Countries by GRE Scores

ETS has produced an analysis of the scores for the Graduate Record Exam required for entry into US graduate schools. Among the more interesting tables are the scores by nationality for the general test, composed of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. This could be regrded as a crude measure of a country's undergraduate education system although clearly there are all sorts of factors that would blur the picture.

Here are mean scores for quantitative skills  by country.

1Hong Kong169.50
7South Korea158.20
11Czech Republic156.90
31=New Zealand154.40
34Sri Lanka154.20
45=US Asian153.50
75=South Africa151.30
79US White150.40
80Bosnia - Herzog150.10
82=Costa Rica149.70
90Trinidad 148.80
99Cote d' Ivoire148.10
104=El Salvador147.50
109=US American Ind147.10
111US Hispanic147.00
113=Burkina Faso146.80
116=Dominican Repub146.50
116=US Mexican146.50
121=US Porto Rican145.90
126St Lucia145.20
127Congo DR145.10
133=Sierra Leone143.70
135US Black143.10
136Saudi Arabia142.80
137Congo Republic142.40

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Rankings on the Way

Soon it will be springtime in the Northern hemisphere and spring would not be complete without a few more rankings.

The Times Higher Education reputation rankings will be launched in early March at the British Council's Going Global conference in Dubai.

“Almost 50,000 academics have provided their expert insight over just three short annual rounds of the survey, providing a serious worldwide audit of an increasingly important but little-understood aspect of global higher education – a university’s academic brand.”
This year’s reputation rankings will be the based on the 16,639 responses, from 144 countries, to Thomson Reuters’ 2012 Academic Reputation Survey, which was carried out during March and April 2012. The 2011 survey attracted 17,554 responses, and 2010’s survey attracted 13,388 respondents.

The survey is by invitation only and academics are selected to be statistically representative of their geographical region and discipline. All are published scholars, questioned about their experiences in the field in which they work. The average time this year’s respondents spent working in the sector was 17 years. '

Meanwhile, the QS ranking of 30 subjects is coming soon. Until now these have been based on varying combinations of employer opinion, academic opinion and citations. This year they will be adding  an indicator based on the h-index.

Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

"The index is based on the distribution of citations received by a given researchers publications. Hirsch writes:
A scientist has index h if h of his/her Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np − h) papers have no more than h citations each.
In other words, a scholar with an index of h has published h papers each of which has been cited in other papers at least h times.[2] Thus, the h-index reflects both the number of publications and the number of citations per publication. The index is designed to improve upon simpler measures such as the total number of citations or publications. The index works properly only for comparing scientists working in the same field; citation conventions differ widely among different fields.
The h-index serves as an alternative to more traditional journal impact factor metrics in the evaluation of the impact of the work of a particular researcher. Because only the most highly cited articles contribute to the h-index, its determination is a relatively simpler process. Hirsch has demonstrated that h has high predictive value for whether a scientist has won honors like National Academy membership or the Nobel Prize. "

This means that one paper cited once produces an index of 1, 20 papers cited 20 times an index of 20, 100 papers cited 100 times an index of 100 and so on.

The point of this is that it combines productivity and quality as measured by citations and reduces the effect of extreme outliers. This is definitely an improvement for QS.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Freedom Indicator?

It is often argued  that the quality of a a university has something to do with academic freedom. Some Western academic have become noticeably self-righteous about respect for human rights in other countries. There have been criticisms of Yale University's links with Singapore, where gay rights are restricted.

One wonders whether Western campuses should talk so loudly about freedom. A recent incident at Carleton University in Canada suggests that when it comes to human rights some humans are much more equal than others.

Carleton has a freedom wall where students can write thoughts that are forbidden in the rest of the campus, probably even in much or most of Canada. Even this was too much for Arun Smith, a seventh year (yes, that's right) human rights student. From the Macleans On Campus blog:

"Seventh-year Carleton University human rights [apparently human rights and political science with a minor in sexuality studies] student Arun Smith has apparently not been in school long enough to learn that other people have rights to opinions that differ from his. After the “free speech wall” on campus was torn down, he posted a message to his Facebook wall claiming responsibility. “If everyone speaks freely we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society,” it read. The display had been erected by campus club Carleton Students for Liberty and students were encouraged to write anything they wanted on the paper. Someone wrote “abortion is murder” and “traditional marriage is awesome.” GBLTQ Centre volunteer Riley Evans took offense, telling The Charlatan student newspaper that the wall was attacking those who have had abortions and those in same-sex relationships."

It appears that Arun Smith has been widely condemned and that he will be punished. What seems to have been passed over is that it is apparently necessary to have a wall where mainstream religious opinions can be expressed. Yes, I know that "abortion is murder" is a gross simplification of a complex philosophical issue but whose fault is it that it has to be expressed in three words?

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has issued a Campus Freedom Index for Canadian universities. Unsurprisingly, Carleton gets a C and 3 Fs. The best appears to be St Thomas with one A and three Bs

What about an international edition?

The Commission Strikes Back

Jordi Curell from the European Commission's Directorate General for Education and Culture has written in defence of the proposed U-multirank university ranking system. He starts:

"Is Times Higher Education worried about competition to its world university ranking from U-Multirank? It looks like it from the tone of its reporting on the new European ranking initiative launched in Dublin at the end of January. "

He concludes:

"However, the EU should not finance U-Multirank forever; this should be limited to the start-up phase. That is why the contract for delivering the ranking includes the design of a self-sustaining business plan and organising the transition to this model.

These are challenging times for higher education in Europe, and the purpose behind U-Multirank could not be clearer. Our objective is improving the performance of Europe's higher education systems – not just selling newspapers."

 By the way, THE is a magazine now, not a newspaper.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wasting Money

The League of European Research Universities claims to be upset about the 2 million Euros that the Europan Uniion is spending on its proposed multi-dimensional university ranking. What do they or their American counterpartsthink about things like this?

"The president [of the US] will invest $55 million in a new First in the World competition, to support the public and private colleges and non-profit organizations as they work to develop and test the next breakthrough strategy that will boost higher education attainment and student outcomes. The new program will also help scale-up those innovative and effective practices that have been proven to boost productivity and enhance teaching and learning on college campuses."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Update on U-Multirank

Using data supplied by institutions is not a good idea for any international ranking. Apart from questions of reliability and objectivity, there is always the possibility of "conscientious objectors" disrupting the ranking process by refusing to take part.

The League of European Research Universities has just announced that it will not participate in the European Union's proposed multi-dimensional ranking project.

Membership of the League is by invitation only and "is periodically evaluated against a broad set of quantitative and qualitative criteria, such as research volume, impact and funding, strengths in PhD training, size and disciplinary breadth, and peer-recognised academic excellence." At the moment , it includes Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Geneva and Strasbourg universities.

According to Times Higher Education

'Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of Leru, said the organisation, whose members include the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, believes the project is ill-conceived and poorly designed.

"We consider U-Multirank at best an unjustifiable use of taxpayers' money and at worst a serious threat to a healthy higher education system," he said. "Leru has serious concerns about the lack of reliable, solid and valid data for the chosen indicators in U-Multirank, about the comparability between countries, about the burden put upon universities to collect data and about the lack of 'reality-checks' in the process thus far."'

Considering the sort of thing that European universities spend texpayers' money on, 2 million Euros seem comparatively trivial. There are no doubt genuine concerns about the reliability of data produced by institutions and comparability between countries but if you can swallow the camel of Rice University and Moscow Engineering Physics Institute as the best in the world for research influence according to Times Higher and Thomson Reuters, then why strain at U-Multirank's gnats?

And as for a serious threat to higher education, I think someone should sit down for a few minutes and have a cup of tea before making any more statements.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Another Ranking on the Way

The European Union has just launched its U- Multirankranking system. Data will be collected during 2013 and the results will be out in 2014.
According to the European Commissioner for Education the aim is to to provide a multi-dimensional analysis of institutions rather than one that emphasises research excellence.
It is certainly true that the prominent international rankings focus largely or almost entirely  on research. The Shanghai rankings are all about research except perhaps the 10 percent for Nobel and Field awards given to alumni. The QS rankings have a weighting at least 60 per cent for research (citations per faculty and academic survey) and maybe more since research only faculty are counted in the faculty student ratio. Times Higher Education allocates 30 percent for research influence (citations) and 30 percent for research (volume, income and reputation). Since the scores for the citations indicators are substantially higher than those for the others  it can carry an even greater weight for many universities.  Rankings that measure other significant parts of a university’s mission might therefore fill an obvious gap.
But the new rankings are going to rely on data submitted by universities. What happens if several major institutions, including perhaps many British ones, decline to take part?


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Article in the Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Debra Houry on university rankings. She makes some pertinent comments although her recommendations at the end are either impractical or likely to make things worse.

She points out that several American colleges have been found to have submitted inflated data to the US News and World Report in order to boost their standing in the rankings and notes that "there is an inherent conflict of interest in asking those who are most invested in the rankings to self-report data."

This is true and is even more true of international rankings. One reason why the Shanghai rankings are more credible than those produced by QS and Times Higher Education is that they rely entirely on reasonably accessible public data. Using information provided by institutions is a risky business which, among other things, could lead to universities refusing to cooperate, something which ended the promising Asiaweek rankings in 2001.

She then argues that measures of student quality such as high school class rank and SAT scores should be abandoned because they "discourage colleges from selecting a diverse student body. An institution that begins accepting more African-American students or students from low-income families—two groups that have among the lowest SAT scores, according to the College Board—might see its ranking drop because the average SAT score of its freshmen has gone down."

True, but on the other hand an institution that puts more emphasis on standardized test scores might rise in the rankings and might also increase its intake of Asian students and so become more diverse. Are Asian students less diverse than African- Americans? They are certainly likely to be far more varied in terms of mother tongue, political opinions or religious affiliation.

She also points out that it is now a bit late to count printed books in the law school rankings and wonders about using ratemyprofessor to assess teaching quality.

Then there is a familiar criticism of the QS Stars rating systems.

Professor Houry also makes the common complaint that the rankings do not capture unique features of institutions such as "a program called Living-Learning Communities, which gives upperclassmen at Emory incentives to live on campus and participate in residential learning. But you would never learn about that from the ranking formulas."

The problem is that a lot of people are interested in how smart graduates are or how much  research, if any, faculty are doing or how much money is flowing in. But seriously, what is so interesting about upperlassmen living on campus? In any case if this is unique would you expect  any measure to "capture" it.

Finally she concludes "ranking organizations should develop more-meaningful measures around diversity of students, job placement, acceptance into professional schools, faculty membership in national academies, and student engagement. Instead of being assigned a numerical rank, institutions should be grouped by tiers and categories of programs. The last thing students want is to be seen as a number. Colleges shouldn't want that, either."

But all of these raise more problems than solutions. If we really want diversity of students shouldn't we counting counting conservative students  or evangelical Christians? Job placement raises the possibility, already found in law school rankings, of counting graduates employed in phony temporary jobs or glorified slave labor (internships). Membership in national academies? A bit elitist, perhaps?