Something for everyone

National university league tables are aimed at student consumers, but the revamped THE World University Rankings have a broader constituency: the global academy in all its variety. Phil Baty reports

August 18, 2010

“We do it to help you make one of the most important decisions of your life.”

This is how the American news magazine US News & World Report answers the million-dollar question: “Why do you rank universities?”

It explains: “Your investment in a college education could profoundly affect your career opportunities, financial wellbeing and quality of life.”

So the magazine’s tables are unequivocally and unashamedly directed at student consumers (and their parents).

The indicators the magazine uses reflect this approach. The tables draw on an opinion poll of high-school counsellors who have experience of university admissions. They use a “predicted graduation rate”, data on entry standards and many other criteria.

But global university rankings of the sort Times Higher Education has been publishing for six years are very different. The indicators they use are more limited – restricted to globally recognised and globally comparable data.

But there is a virtue in this. It means that such rankings serve a much wider purpose: although they can, like domestic tables, assist students in selecting institutions and courses (but only at a very broad level), they also help academic staff to select research collaborators or examine career opportunities; influence senior university administrators’ strategic planning; and even aid governments in monitoring national performance.

By drawing heavily on research-paper citations, the THE World University Rankings that we will publish this autumn will indicate the contribution institutions make to global knowledge through the publication of innovative and influential research – a key economic priority for most nations.

By looking at institutions’ research income earned from industry, we will paint a picture of their contributions to the knowledge economy.

By looking at the mix of international staff and students, we will gain a sense of universities’ ability to draw talent from across the world and their commitment to globalisation and the creation of global citizens.

And by using data on teaching reputation, the mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students, PhD completions and staff-to-student ratios, we will indicate universities’ teaching and learning environments and their ability to nurture talent.

So the THE World University Rankings are not just for students: they are for everyone with a stake in globalised higher education.

Phil Baty is editor of the THE World University Rankings and deputy editor of THE magazine.

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