Social sciences lose 1

November 16, 2007

Your publication of The Times Higher -QS World University Rankings (November 9) again provides evidence of the increasing strength and global competitiveness of UK higher education and provides a welcome yardstick against which to judge progress.

However, we would argue that the nature of one of the components of the rankings undervalues UK higher education, particularly for institutions strong in social science. The use of a citation database must have an impact because such databases do not have as wide a cover of the social sciences (or arts and humanities) as the natural sciences. Hence the low position of the London School of Economics, caused primarily by its citations score, is a result not of the output of an outstanding institution but the database and the fact that the LSE does not have the counterweight of a large natural science base.

In addition, we know that in the social sciences the databases tend to have a more comprehensive coverage of US journals and, given the context- specific nature of much social science research, this may affect the frequency of citation of UK institutions strong in social sciences relative to their US counterparts.

Ian Diamond , Chief executive, Economic and Social Research Council.

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