Wednesday, September 08, 2010

World University Rankings

The World University Rankings 2010 are out. The rankings are based on factual information, such as number of papers published, but also on personal opinions. 40% of the score is determined by a survey of academics that asks about "academic reputation." Another major component is based on a survey of employers who are asked to evaluate the quality of undergraduates they hire.

All types of university are including in the ranking but certain adjustments are made for size—for example, the faculty at smaller universities publish fewer papers. The various categories are identified in the list.


I don't agree with these rankings. It's going to be extremely difficult to complete against the Ivy League schools in the USA and Oxbridge in the UK because of their enormous reputations from the past. Who knows whether these schools are as good as they think they are? You aren't going to find out by giving such a high score to reputation surveys.

Having said that, there are a few things we can learn from the World University Rankings. Here's the top ten.
  1. University of Cambridge UK (L,VH,FC)
  2. Harvard University USA (L,VH,FC)
  3. Yale University USA (M,VH,FC)
  4. University College London UK (L,VH,FC)
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology USA (M,VH,CO)
  6. University of Oxford UK (L,VH,FC)
  7. Imperial College London UK (L,VH,FC)
  8. University of Chicago USA (M,VH,FC)
  9. California Institute of Technology USA (S,VH,CO)
  10. Princeton University USA (M,VH,CO)
Four of the top ten universities in the world are in the United Kingdom. No matter what you might think of the way these schools are ranked, it's time we stopped propagating the myth that American universities are by far the best in the world. The UK has about 62 million people or about one-fifth the population of the United States. By any reasonable criterion, it is the country that's created and maintained the best universities in the world. If you won't go that far, at least you'll have to concede that America is not the slam-dunk winner, as so often assumed (mostly by Americans).

The top Canadian university is McGill University at number 19. The University of Toronto comes in at 29th, just behind the University of California, Berkeley. Toronto and UC Berkeley are both XL, VH, FC. The only other Very Large university ahead of them is the University of Michigan at number 15.


12 comments :

  1. No matter what you might think of the way these schools are ranked, it's time we stopped propagating the myth that American universities are by far the best in the world.

    It's only a "myth" if you can demonstrate that anyone has promulgated it as fact in the past. Simply asserting that it is a "myth", doesn't make it so.

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  2. If that's the top ten released in the study, then I posit that the study is flawed, or at least it measures things which are not worth measuring. Yale and Harvard are -- when measured by the quality of graduating students -- not worthy of being in the top ten schools in the U.S., let alone the world. Both Harvard and Yale have a reputation for having difficult undergraduate admissions but then allowing students to coast. And considering the number of cases of students who almost certainly got into those schools through family connections -- George W. Bush, anyone? -- their admissions aren't even a terribly good filter.

    This does not, of course, challenge your claim about the relative merits of schools in the UK; I'm just saying that this list is worthless in any meaningful discussion

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  3. The Vicar,

    While both Harvard and Yale are v.v.selective about the deserving ones they admit (as unselective as the connected/monied ones they admit) the deserving ones are v.v.good. But again I am not sure if there is anything distinctively great about research at Harvard or Yale. They definitely are not in the same league as Oxbridge and some of the French research labs (that are strictly not universities). And as for some of the universities that made the list (HK, China and Australia) did they weigh the papers these univs published by any chance? These univs have a v.poor record of direct recruitment of PhDs as profs in US univs. That is their PhDs aren't considered good enough to be hired as profs at US and Canadian universities.

    Truti

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  4. The top 10 ranking might be due to wealth.

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  5. I agree, whatever the methodology is, the list doesn't seem to be "right".

    At least in terms of research, there is an objective criterion to look at: "Citations per Faculty". There, the top ranking is pretty much all USA. First UK entry is Cambridge at #36 (tied with Rice U). First Canadian uni is University of Western Ontario at #42 and first X-Large uni from Canada is UBC at #57.

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  6. Is there ANY measure of quality of teaching or is "academics" limited to research? I hunted around to find but my kids were distracting me at the time. Not to say that research isn't important, but there is this myth out there that the best teacher is the "expert in the field" (defined by # of publications). I would argue that, not only is there not a cause/effect relationship there ("expertise" in field and ability to facilitate student learning (or "teach") there isn't even a correlation. Subject experts CAN be great teachers, but so many aren't.

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  7. I was a little disappointed to see the University I attend (Dundee) was rated... 200+th, but I looked at the life sciences rating (=82nd) - so, I guess it's not nearly as bad I thought.

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  8. Jeff Mahr says,

    Not to say that research isn't important, but there is this myth out there that the best teacher is the "expert in the field" (defined by # of publications). I would argue that, not only is there not a cause/effect relationship there ("expertise" in field and ability to facilitate student learning (or "teach") there isn't even a correlation. Subject experts CAN be great teachers, but so many aren't.

    There's actually data to support your claim. It's discussed in a book I read a few weeks ago but I don't have it with me right now.

    The data suggests that, with respect to UNDERGRADUATE teaching, there's no correlation between doing research and being a good teacher.

    However, we need to be careful not to fall into the common trap of assuming that the only kind of teaching is that which takes place in undergraduate classrooms. I'd be very surprised if there isn't a correlation at the graduate level of teaching.

    Don't forget that in all the best universities graduate students are just as important—perhaps more so—as undergraduates.

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  9. In my field (geological/optical oceanography) there's not that many scientists from the universities listed above. However, whenever I have been to a conference in the last 10 years, I have never been disappointed if somebody from Cambridge or Oxford have been giving a talk. They have always been outstanding in the way the results were worthy of presentation, delivered and put into perspective.

    As for presentations from scientists from the other universities: Not at all the same level as scientists from Oxford or Cambridge. Also, in my opinion the brits generally have the edge on their US colleagues when it comes to presenting and disseminating information.

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  10. Both the Times and QS rankings are heavily subjective. It is difficult to have any faith in the results. Check out this website for a new ranking initiative from Australia which tries to overcome the problems of previous systems: www.highimpactuniversities.com

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  11. TJ:
    http://www.highimpactuniversities.com/

    I didn't bother to read their methodology but this list looks much closer to the way I see the world of universities. This list is heavily biased against some Euro/Asian research institutes because, formally speaking, they are not universities. Then again, they are not as versatile as general purpose unis...a

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  12. America is clearly the slam-dunk winner if you look at the top 20-30. Restricting the analysis to the top 10 is trickery and does not really give a full enough picture.

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