Why does Times Higher Education use an academic reputation survey to fuel its World University Rankings?
In my eight years as editor of the rankings, this is the methodological question that I get asked most of all. The rankings use 13 separate performance indicators – covering the full range of global research universities’ core activities: teaching; research; knowledge transfer; and internationalisation. The single biggest indicator, worth 30 per cent of the overall score, involves an analysis of 62 million citations to more than 12 million research publications, providing a robust and widely accepted picture of the global scholarly impact of a university’s research, all normalised for more than 330 different academic subject areas.
So why include the subjective opinion of academics, when reputation is so nebulous?
First of all, when assessing a university’s overall research excellence, bibliometric analyses alone do not always cover all bases. Bibliometrics are certainly a well established and accepted proxy for excellence in many fields, but in others, particularly in the arts, they are less well accepted. The THE World University Rankings examine citations to journal articles, article reviews, conference proceedings, books and book chapters, published over a rolling five-year window, but this does not cover all bases. There are plenty of other forms of research output, for example, in performance art or the visual arts.
Our annual Academic Reputation Survey can cover such outputs.
There are also concerns in some countries that the existing bibliometric databases are dominated by Western, English-language journals, where, for example, outstanding work on Russian literature written in Cyrillic, or great Confucian philosophy in Mandarin, is unlikely to be published.
The reputation survey can cover these types of research outputs too. But how?
The THE Academic Reputation Survey, carried out in partnership with Elsevier, is uniquely rigorous and balanced. It is invitation-only, to ensure that only experienced, published scholars can take part and to ensure a truly representative statistical sample of global scholarship, across countries and academic disciplines. Universities cannot nominate anyone to take part, they cannot supply contact lists and individuals cannot nominate themselves to take part.
The survey is available in 15 languages and it is distributed and analysed to reflect the actual distribution of scholars throughout the world, based on the latest United Nations data. We also ensure an equal balance of responses against all the broad academic disciplines. So we can reach the Chinese philosophy experts, the Russian literature specialists and the performing artists, alongside experts from other nations and disciplines, to get additional insight into research excellence in places bibliometrics cannot always reach.
But there is also another, more simple reason that we include the reputation survey in the THE World University Rankings. Reputation matters.
In today’s highly competitive global academy, reputation is the currency. It is a key consideration for faculty when moving jobs, it influences the formation of new research collaborations and helps persuade philanthropists or industrial funders to invest. It is also a key consideration for international students in deciding who to invest their future with.
As Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education, has said: “Reputation is itself an identifiable market – one that matters and has material effects.”
Your invitation to shape the results of the THE World University Rankings
The headline results of the 2018 Academic Reputation Survey will first be published in the form of the 2018 THE World Reputation Rankings in May 2018, and they will inform the outcome of the 2019 THE World University Rankings, published in September 2018, and all subsidiary and regional rankings for 2019. The survey results also provide a uniquely rich picture of the changing global academic reputation of institutions to inform THE’s editorial analyses and data and analytics tools.
Please check your inbox for an invitation from TimesHigherEducation@surveys.elsevier.com.
If you are selected to take part in the survey, you have been chosen based on a proven record of research publication and will be representing thousands of your peers in your discipline and your country. Please take the opportunity to provide your expert input and help us develop a uniquely rich perspective on global higher education.
Phil Baty is editorial director, global rankings, at Times Higher Education.