Do university rankings allow the real ‘stars of teaching’ to shine?

Mark Jones looks at what happens to the league tables if you isolate the World University Rankings’ teaching metrics

December 13, 2017
teaching, teacher, lecturer, lecturing, students
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December is traditionally the time of year when the year’s most memorable moments and impactful contributions are reviewed.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on a single moment in the world of higher education: 10.10pm on 4 September 2017. The moment when the University of Huddersfield was crowned as winner of the inaugural Global Teaching Excellence Award.

It was a real David v Goliath moment when Huddersfield, fresh from receiving its ranking in the 600-800 bracket of the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, outshone some of the most prestigious universities in the world to claim the award. How could an institution with a comparatively modest ranking win in such exalted company? Does this victory bring into question the legitimacy of the award?

No – not in the slightest! 

As Phil Baty, editorial director of THE’s global rankings says: “Teaching is something that’s very hard to capture in simple metrics, so the Global Teaching Excellence award gives us a great opportunity to showcase excellence in a different way.”


Phil Baty on the Global Teaching Excellence Award


 

THE has kindly given us permission to reproduce its rankings, looking at the teaching metric in isolation. This analysis reveals some interesting findings in terms of movement within the top 100, and more fundamentally, the overall highest climbers among the world’s top 1,000 institutions.

Looking at the THE rankings differently to uncover teaching excellence 

THE rankings look at the whole university, but by isolating the teaching metrics, we can see “some real stars of teaching who don’t always shine out in the overall rankings because their research isn’t necessarily right up there with the world’s elite,” Baty explains. 

After stripping out all metrics other than THE’s teaching metric (the full rankings methodology is available here), it’s fair to say that, other than a few exceptions, the changes are relatively minor. Yale is the biggest beneficiary of the “old order”, climbing from 12th to 6th overall.  The most noteworthy new entries all hail from Asia, with China’s Peking and Tsinghua universities, and Japan’s Tokyo University impressively breaking into the top 20. 

 

Institution

Overall THE World University ranking 2018

Teaching ranking

California Institute of Technology

3=

1

Stanford University

3=

2

University of Cambridge

2

3

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

5

4

University of Oxford

1

5

Yale University

12

6

Princeton University

7

7

University of Chicago

9

8

Harvard University

6

9

University of Pennsylvania

10=

10

Peking University

27=

11

Columbia University

8

12

Imperial College London

14

13

University of California, Los Angeles

15

14

Duke University

17

15

Tsinghua University

30

16

University of Tokyo

46

17

University of California, Berkeley

18

18

National University of Singapore

22=

19

University of Michigan

21

20

In full: see how the top 1,000 universities perform when ranked by teaching metrics 

 

So who are the highest climbers in the new-look (teaching only) top 100? The rankings start to get a lot more interesting by delving further into them.

The table below provides only a snapshot of the startling gains made by some institutions, with Lomonosov Moscow State University jumping, staggeringly, from 194th to 26th. Perhaps unsurprisingly, universities in the BRICS countries and other emerging economies tend to fare a lot better in teaching alone. However, the performance of certain institutions in countries where higher education (and research in particular) could be said to be more “mature” – such as USA, Japan and France – is also notable.

 

Institution

Country

Overall THE World University ranking 2018

Ranking for teaching

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Russia

194

26

Kyoto University

Japan

74

29

Seoul National University

Korea

74

31

Fudan University

China

116

52

Zhejiang University

China

177

63

École Polytechnique

France

115

69

Indian Institute of Science

India

251–300

72

Osaka University

Japan

201–250

73

Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

Italy

184

74

Shanghai Jiao Tong University

China

188

76

University of São Paulo

Brazil

251–300

79

University of Florida

USA

143

80

University of Science and Technology of China

China

132

82

National Taiwan University

Taiwan

198

87

Texas A&M University

USA

159

88

University of Notre Dame

USA

150

91

Nanjing University

China

169

94

Tohoku University

Japan

201–250

95

Tokyo Institute of Technology

Japan

251–300

98

Panthéon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1

France

501–600

99

 

As the tables above indicate, it’s a lot more nuanced than simply saying emerging economies fare better in the “teaching-only tables” than countries where it could be claimed that the higher education sector is more mature. When comparing the top 100 institutions overall versus those ranked 1-100 in teaching alone, the one thing that is striking is the comparatively higher performance of institutions across the continent of Asia. 

 

UP

Brazil (+1), China (+5), France (+3), India (+1), Italy (+1), Japan (+3), Russia (+1), S. Korea (+1), Taiwan (+1), USA (+3)

DOWN

Australia (-3), Canada (-1), Germany (-3), Finland (-1), Netherlands (-5), Sweden (-2), Switzerland (-1), UK (-4)

 

Which countries will be represented in the Global Teaching Excellence Award 2018?

In 2017, institutions from eight countries across four continents made the final cut to be shortlisted for the overall award, and this year we expect the competition to be even fiercer. 

Of course, looking at the rankings purely from a teaching perspective does not guarantee success in the award for any institution – but it does help to illustrate that teaching excellence is not restricted to the institutions that may typically be described as the “elite”.

That is why we invite any institution that feels it can demonstrate excellence in the leadership of teaching and learning, combined with excellent teaching and student support on the ground, to consider entering the award.  There’s still time to enter, with the deadline extended to 18 February 2018. You can request the application guidelines and start planning your entry right now.  

Mark Jones is chief operating officer at the Higher Education Academy. The Global Teaching Excellence Award was established by the Higher Education Academy, in association with Times Higher Education.

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