Rankings don't tell whole truth 2

November 12, 2004

It is pretty obvious that big, rich countries have a large and strong university sector, but what if the effects of size and wealth are discounted?

One way to do this is to regress national total university scores per capita against gross domestic product per capita. The UK can then bask in the glory of being the fourth highest country in terms of its out-performance relative to this trend.

The Pacific Rim is where it all seems to be happening, with Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong in the top five. The leading European nations include Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark.

The US, which by virtue of its size and wealth has many universities in the top 200, nevertheless ranks last using this procedure. It is not producing as much quality as its size and wealth suggest it should, at least in this partial data set.

So let us not be seduced into assuming that the correct strategy for our university sector is to emulate the US; we do not seem to have done too badly without doing so.

Keith Richards
Cambridge University

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