Methodologies for Ranking of Best Universities in the World

The world is becoming more globalized with people migrating from all countries are looking for a better life. Most of the migrants are students seeking admissions to the best universities in the world. These students rely on the ranking companies for selecting the best universities. University rankings are produced by many ranking companies but the best among them are Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and Shanghai Ranking Consultancy which publish The Academic Ranking of World Universities. There are other prominent companies that provide rankings like The Best Global Universities Rankings and The University Ranking by Academic Performance. They use separate methodologies but have a similar criteria for measuring the performance of the universities. Methodologies of two popular companies are discussed here.

The QS World University Rankings Methodology

The QS World University Rankings consulted with many university heads for identifying the core values and missions of the university education system. Technical experts from various fields, language experts to communicate effectively and analytical experts are included in the teams to ensure that the survey designs are fool-proof and not be ‘gamed’.  

Authenticity

The authorized persons from the universities participate in data collection by entering the hard data directly into a sophisticated system. The system data can be authenticated by using the records of the time of  entry and credentials of the person making the entries. Finally, the verification is done against the government data and university websites. If any difference is found in data, it is resolved by talking to the university persons.

The QS World University Rankings continue to evaluate universities according to the following metrics.

Academic reputation  

Academic Reputation score depends on academic survey meant for receiving expert opinions of over 80,000 personalities in the higher education. It helps in measuring sentiment in the academic community.

Employer reputation

Students’ primary aim still remains to become eligible and prepare through education for better employment prospects. Industry Placements and rigorous preparation provided to students are important indicators. Employer Reputation depends on an employer survey from over 40,000 responses about the best universities from which they get the most competent, innovative, effective students.

Faculty/Student Ratio

Though it’s difficult to measure the teaching quality, a teacher/student ratio comes closest to predict the quality of teaching. The meaningful access to lecturers and tutors and a high number of faculty members per student will improve the learning by students.  

Citations per faculty

Research output is a key ingredient of university performance. Best Universities are a primary source of innovations and research in fundamental sciences which transform the lives of people. As research communities have developed a way of working with the publications and academic research, research quality can be measured by ‘citations per faculty’ over the period of five years. The citations are given by other researchers from the same field or subject area. Therefore, a citation for a Philosophy research should be measured differently compared to research in Anatomy and Physiology. Being the world’s largest repository of academic journal data, Elsevier’s Scopus is used as a reliable source of citations.

The ratio of International Faculties and students

International exposure of a university validates an ability to attract faculty and students from across the world. A multinational environment facilitates the exchange of best university practices and beliefs. International sympathies and global awareness, valuable to global employers, are inculcated in students.

There are some changes in between to ensure that institutions specializing in Life Sciences and Natural Sciences will not get higher rankings compared to arts and social science subjects and the comparisons remain valid for year-on-year.

Methodology of Times Higher Education (THE)  

The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings are the only global performance tables that judge research-intensive universities across all the domains for university. The five areas of indicators are teaching, research, knowledge transfer, international outlook, and industry income. THE uses thirteen performance criteria to provide the most comprehensive study which is trusted by many students, academicians, industries and governments.

Data collection

There are thousands of universities in the world but the ranking companies specifically select the institutions that have reputation and reviews. Selection is based on historical evidence of reasonably good indicators or high future potential in case of newly established ones. Data collection is standardized and in rare occasions if any data is not provided, conservative estimates are allotted.

Arriving at the Ranking

A standardized approach is used to use the data points for each indicator, and then combine the indicators in appropriate proportions pre-decided as per the analysis.

The distribution of data within a particular indicator is used to estimate a cumulative probability, and evaluate where a particular institution’s indicator sits within that function. A cumulative probability indicates how frequently the indicators are computed to fall below the range or group values.

The indicators are clustered into five areas –

  1. Teaching (the learning environment);
  2. Research (volume, income and reputation);
  3. Citations (research influence);
  4. International outlook (staff, students and research); and
  5. Industry income (knowledge transfer).

Benefits of Ranking the Best Universities

Though everyone has different opinions on the benefits of these methodologies, few benefits are found to be more relevant. University leaders can use these rankings as a strategic planning tool and measure the impact of their own efforts. They can benchmark the evolution of their university compared to others. These ranking can serve as an indicator of the quality of research output.

Limitations of Common Methods

Some of the limitations in ranking methodology are – size of the institution resulting in high ranking for large universities. There is a strong publishing and citation culture in the fields of medicine and natural sciences compared to humanities and social science. This results in the bias towards them. Universities with publications in the English language are favored as it is used for citations and research indexing.

Compatibility is Decisive

There are many tangible and intangible aspects driving an institution towards excellence. These aspects often can’t be measured by common yardstick for all. Every institution operates in its own context and there are many unique objectives valuable for a university. The question everyone searching for is – ‘What makes the world’s best universities the best in the world?’  Ranking and survey methodologies try to answer it to some extent and satisfy average people with generalized answers. The best option for a student would be to go for an extraordinary search to find the university with decisive structures which are uniquely compatible to address his or her learning needs.

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