THE World University Rankings

"Do you ever get death threats?" This was one of the questions I was asked by a Russian journalist during a visit to Moscow last week to discuss the world university rankings.

March 18, 2010

The question was tongue-in-cheek, but it did reflect the absolute seriousness with which Russia is taking the issue of world rankings as it grapples with pressing questions about its place in the rapidly globalising higher education sector.

I was in Moscow to give a seminar to the Russian Rectors' Union at Moscow State University. Andrey Fursenko, the education and science minister, spoke at the meeting about how global rankings "make us reflect (and) think about what we can do to make our universities better". But he also questioned whether the criteria used were rigorous enough.

Victor Sadovnichiy, rector of Moscow State, went further. After giving me a detailed critique of existing ranking methodologies, he warned against using research that was "not deep enough" in a process that lacked transparency.

The rectors' union welcomed our decision to stop using our old rankings methodology and to develop a new, improved and more transparent system with all data and analysis supplied by Thomson Reuters. To this end, we signed a "joint communique" with the union.

The document celebrates rankings as a way to facilitate "mutual international understanding and reciprocal cultural enrichment", but it also acknowledges that ranking systems need to be improved.

The agreement makes a commitment to the regular and open exchange of ideas and information on the development of our rankings - and that commitment extends to sector representatives worldwide.

Video of Phil Baty discussing rankings on Russia Today TV's 'Spotlight' show

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