If you work for a university in Europe and are submitting data for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, you might have noticed that we are asking some new questions this year.
Or, perhaps you do not normally provide us with data because you don’t think that we would rank your institution, but this year we are approaching you. So, why are we asking questions, and what do we hope to achieve?
When you look at international university rankings systems, one thing is obvious. Regardless of the rankings in front of you – THE, Shanghai, Leiden – all of them focus on research and research universities.
The THE World University Rankings, uniquely, include some measures looking at impact and teaching, but the focus is clearly on research. And there is good reason for this: research is the function of universities that is most constant across countries.
But research isn’t the only mission of universities. If we look at just research, we miss out many excellent institutions, and consider only one aspect of the work that universities do. We also need to recognise that research is far more important to academics than it is to (most) students.
As a result, THE has started to explore how we can evaluate teaching, first through the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings and the THE Japan University Rankings, and now through the new European Teaching Excellence Rankings.
As with our existing teaching rankings, we will look at four broad aspects of teaching:
- Resources: the raw materials that you have to support teaching at your university
- Engagement: what students are saying about how they are taught
- Outcomes: what teaching achieves for students
- Environment: other factors, such as the diversity of an institution
We have been consulting on these rankings for more than a year and hope that what we are going to create will provide the first international exploration of teaching as a factor in assessing university performance.
Something that we have known about for a long time, and that has proved an effective block on the ability to analyse teaching and learning, are the significant differences between systems in different countries. Some countries have open systems, others have strict access restrictions. Some charge fees, others do not. The differences go on and on.
So, rather than choosing an extremely limited set of measures that are genuinely, or even approximately, comparable across borders, we plan to initially create rankings within each country. We will then offer a mechanism to identify comparable institutions in another country. So, someone will be able to tell if the Federal University of Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées is similar to the University of Portsmouth, or if LMU Munich is like Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.
A core element of this will be our student survey. We have already rolled this out looking at questions around student recommendation, collaboration in learning, and engagement in the learning process.
Universities can choose to participate directly – and in the US, more and more colleges are choosing to do that – or they can let us reach out to them. Either way, this option is providing an exciting, new and unique element to our understanding.
We have two major goals: to inform potential students, especially international students, and to provide a new and exciting ability to benchmark teaching performance across countries.