Academics strike back at spurious rankings
D Butler, Nature 447, 514-515 (31 May 2007) doi:10.1038/447514b
Below are excerpts from the Nature article, followed by some
Universities seek reform of ratings.
[A] group of US colleges [called for a] boycott [of] the most influential university ranking in the United States...
Experts argue that these are based on dubious methodology and spurious data, yet they have huge influence...
"All current university rankings are flawed to some extent; most, fundamentally,"
The rankings in the U.S. News & World Report and those published by the British Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) depend heavily on surveys of thousands of experts - a system that some contest. A third popular ranking, by Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, is based on more quantitative measures, such as citations, numbers of Nobel prizewinners and publications in Nature and Science. But even these measures are not straightforward.
Thomson Scientific's ISI citation data are notoriously poor for use in rankings; names of institutions are spelled differently from one article to the next, and university affiliations are sometimes omitted altogether. After cleaning up ISI data on all UK papers for such effects... the true number of papers from the University of Oxford, for example, [were] 40% higher than listed by ISI...
Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands have similarly recompiled the ISI database for 400 universities: half a million papers per year. Their system produces various rankings based on different indicators. One, for example, weights citations on the basis of their scientific field, so that a university that does well
in a heavily cited field doesn't get an artificial extra boost.
The German Center for Higher Education Development (CHE) also offers rankings... for almost 300 German, Austrian and Swiss universities... the CHE is expanding the system to cover all Europe.
The US Commission on the Future of Higher Education is considering creating a similar public database, which would offer competition to the U.S. News & World Report.
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