World University Rankings blog: a survey that you can rely on

The responses of 10,323 scholars give THE the largest and most statistically sound reputation ranking, says Phil Baty

April 18, 2016
Thank you

I would like to offer 10,323 thank-yous. That’s one “thank you” to each person who took part in Times Higher Education’s 2016 Academic Reputation Survey, which has now closed for the year.

Not only did our respondents – all experienced, published scholars from 133 countries – ensure that we raised $10,000 (£7,050) for international education charities, they have also helped THE to build a rich picture of university prestige and reputation. The survey has provided us with about 400,000 data points: on universities’ academic standing nationally and globally, and in teaching and research.

The data will be first used to create the 2016 THE World Reputation Rankings – our unique, annual global university brand index. This top 100 list will be published live on our website at 21.00 BST on 4 May, and the rankings will be formally launched at the British Council’s Going Global conference in Cape Town, on 5 May. I will present the main findings, and dig into the data, alongside THE’s director of data and analysis, Duncan Ross.

The results of the survey will also form two of the 13 performance indicators used to create the flagship THE World University Rankings for 2016-17, to be launched in September 2016. They will also be built into a range of analytical and institutional benchmarking tools provided by the THE data team.

So, with such a lot riding on the survey results, it is essential that the research is robust and rigorous. Unlike other similar exercises, where people are free to sign up to take part in such surveys, the THE’s Academic Reputation Survey is strictly by invitation-only. With Elsevier as our survey partner, we are able to ensure that only experienced, senior scholars with a record of publication in leading journals are invited to take part, and we are able to distribute the survey to a properly representative sample of scholars by discipline, and by country. We used United Nations data to determine the distribution of researchers across the world, and send surveys, available in 15 languages, accordingly.

This year, some 33 per cent of responses came from Asia, with 27 per cent from Western Europe, 11 per cent from Eastern Europe, and 19 per cent from North America. Latin America provided 6 per cent of the responses, with 3 per cent from the Middle East and 2 per cent from Africa. The responses are re-balanced, if needed, to correct for any disproportionate responses.

We achieved a very good balance across disciplines, now grouped into eight areas, up from six, to reflect THE’s commitment to going deeper into subject detail. The best-represented subject was the physical sciences, with 16 per cent of responses, followed by the social sciences, with 15 per cent. Life sciences, clinical and health, and engineering all achieved 14 per cent, business and economics hit 13 per cent, arts and humanities nine per cent and computer sciences, a smaller discipline overall, attracted 5 per cent of responses.

Our strictly invitation-only and properly sampled approach means that the THE Academic Reputation Survey is immune from the kind of manipulation that all too frequently makes headlines around the world. It ensures that THE manages the largest and most statistically sound survey of its kind.

So thank you once again to each and every scholar who lent us their expertise and experience to help create such a powerful global resource.

Phil Baty is editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

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