At a press conference in Brussels on 13 May, the U-Multirank was officially launched by Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth.
The ranking system, set up with €2 million (£1.6 million) of EU funding, assesses the performance of more than 850 higher education institutions across the world on five indicators – research, teaching, international orientation, success in knowledge transfer via partnerships with business and start-ups, and regional involvement.
It does not produce a league table of institutions, but users are able to create a personalised ranking based on their priorities.
Under the scheme, which also takes account of feedback from 60,000 students, more than 1,000 faculties and 5,000 study programmes from 70 countries are also marked on a range of activities and each assigned grades from “A” (very good) to “E” (weak).
The ranking will “enable students to make more informed decisions about where to study and give us a more accurate picture of how universities perform”, said Ms Vassiliou.
It would also help students to look beyond a university’s research record, which tends to determine where institutions are placed in other university ranking systems, she added.
“U-Multirank highlights many excellent performers that do not show up in current, research-focused, global rankings – including more than 300 universities that have never appeared in any world ranking until now,” Ms Vassiliou said.
The U-Multirank was first proposed in 2008 by France, which then held the presidency of EU, which led to the European Commission to call for proposals for a European university ranking system that year.
However, the enterprise has been criticised by some universities and politicians.
In February last year, the League of European Research Universities, which represents 21 research-intensive institutions, voiced “serious concerns” about the project and withdrew its support.
In January 2012, a House of Lords report said it was “not a good use of limited EU resources”.
However, the ranking tool has been welcomed by the European Students Union, which represents more than 11 million students in 39 countries.
Its vice-chairman Fernando Miguel Galán Palomares said the U-Multirank will “highlight universities that have until now been disregarded in the existing measures used in global ranking systems, overlooking the strengths of those institutions”.
“U-Multirank is not…yet another ranking system of universities, or similar to those that already exists around the world,” he added. “It is an attempt to move university information tools closer to the students’ reality, needs and expectations.”