December 19, 2014

Another way to rank universities?

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Oxford University

Mundell, I. (2013) EU rolls out university ranking European Voice.com, January 24

The European Union is promoting a new system of rankings for Europe’s universities to encourage international comparison. The system, called U-Multirank, aims to correct a perceived bias towards research performance in other international rankings, and so present a more balanced picture of university activities.  The perceived research bias of existing rankings is seen as problematic because it fails to recognise that universities may have other goals and their users may have other priorities. The EU initiative aims to bring out these other university activities and allow institutions to be compared accordingly.

The possibility that U-Multirank offers an alternative has been cautiously welcomed in some quarters, but rejected in others. The League of European Research Universities, which represents 21 elite institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, left the U-Multirank pilot project and remains opposed to its implementation, particularly with public funds.

Comment

First, I welcome a move to provide any alternative system to the fundamentally flawed university ranking models currently in use, which certainly overvalue research and undervalue teaching. The main concern though is that current rankings are deliberately rigged to promote the standings of existing elite universities in the USA and to a lesser extent in the UK. The EU is trying to redress that.

However, I doubt whether it is feasible or even desirable to reduce a complex organization such as a university to a single numerical ranking. In any university, some departments will be better than others. Different students will want different things from a university. Rankings tell you nothing about the flexibility they provide for learners. University rankings are an attempt to rig a simple metric to drive high international fee payers to certain institutions. Don’t play or support this stupid game.

See also: World University Rankings: A Reality Based on a Fraud

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