The biggest and most ambitious project to measure universities' academic reputation for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings was launched this week.
Thomson Reuters, the exclusive data supplier and analyst for the THE rankings in 2010 and beyond, unveiled its Academic Reputation Survey in Philadelphia on 11 March.
Over the coming weeks, thousands of academics around the world, who have been carefully selected as being statistically representative of the global academic workforce, will be asked to complete a short, invitation-only survey to state which in their opinion are the strongest universities in their fields of expertise.
In a major new development, the survey will gather opinions on the standards of both research and teaching, raising the prospect of the first worldwide reputation-based measure of teaching quality in higher education.
Ann Mroz, editor of THE, said: "This survey is much bigger and more sophisticated than any survey carried out for our world rankings in the past."
The 2010 respondent pool will be drawn largely from Thomson Reuters' internal databases and will be invitation-only to ensure balanced coverage by discipline.
The survey's regional circulation will follow the United Nations' percentage estimates of global academic researchers by geographical area.
THE announced in November last year that it had ended its partnership with the company QS, which supplied and analysed the data for the rankings between 2004 and 2009.
The magazine is no longer using its old rankings methodology and is instead developing a new, more rigorous and transparent one in consultation with Thomson Reuters, its academic board and its readers.
The reputational survey was the most heavily criticised element of the old rankings. In the former THE-QS methodology, its results were worth 40 per cent of an institution's overall score, but the response rates were small.
In 2009, only about 3,500 people responded, aggregated over three years to give a total sample size of 9,386.
International response rates were also low. In 2008, just 236 responses were collected from India and 182 from Germany. The UK provided 563 responses.
Thomson Reuters said: "Engaging professional scholars is critical to ensuring that this new initiative delivers what the community has long been asking for - a more accurate representation of the institutional landscape, from the source.
"We believe the results will help identify exceptional departments and regional institutions beyond the traditional 'elite'. We are in close consultation with THE on the careful recalibration of reputational weightings; and respondents can also expect enhancements to the traditional survey itself."