Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Ulster University: no need to back down

Ulster University seems to have retracted the claim on its website that it is in the top 3% of universities in the world. Elsewhere it has apparently claimed to be in the top 2%.

According to the Belfast Telegraph

"Ulster University stated that it 'is in the top 3% of universities in the world' when it came 501-600th in the 1,103 Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2018, putting them in the mid-tier of those rankings," a Which? spokesperson said.
"Further, in a website document "Ulster's 50 Facts Worth Knowing" Ulster University included the claim 'Top 2% of universities in the world (QS World Rankings)'."
The spokesman continued: "Which? University is particularly concerned about these comparative claims, given it is less than one year since the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued its comprehensive advice in November 2017 to universities about such claims and its rulings which upheld complaints about comparative claims made in university advertising.
"Where universities are making comparative claims about their relative performance, these should be verifiable and provided with sufficient qualifying information to ensure that prospective students are not misled."

It is unfortunate that Which? should use the THE World University Rankings as the only arbiter of excellence. There are now at least 17 global rankings plus a variety of specialist and niche international rankings. Some of these are just as comprehensive, valid or informative as the THE rankings, if not more so. The THE world rankings are also known (to some people anyway) for their whimsical assessment of the research impact of world universities. This year THE has included Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, the University of Reykjavik, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Anglia Ruskin University, the University of Dessarollo and the University of Canberra as leaders of the global research scene.

Which? has a point. The university is thinking of the 28,077 universities listed in the Webometrics rankings. So if it were in the top 600 of the THE rankings, then it would be in the top 2.45% of world universities.

There is a fallacy here. Many universities that could do better than Ulster do not bother to submit data to THE. If they did they might well forge ahead.

But I see nothing wrong with the university noting that it is ranked 689th in the current Webometrics ranking, which includes web data and a measure of research output, out of 28,077 for which data is available and therefore is in the top 2.45% of the Webometrics ranking.

Ulster is also 777th for the Webometrics research excellence indicator, the number of papers in the top 10% most cited, which would put it in the top 2.77% of universities in the world.

A claim to be in the top 3% of universities would be legitimate providing the ranking and indicator is stated.

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