If you have read articles by Times Higher Education ’s chief knowledge officer Phil Baty, then you will be familiar with the commitment that THE has to the university as an international endeavour. A key aspect of our World University Rankings is the international pillar, which comprises three elements: the proportion of international staff, the proportion of international students, and the proportion of publications with international co-authors. It represents 7.5 per cent of the total rankings. These metrics reflect the importance of working with people from different backgrounds and experiences, both directly and at distance.
When we began exploring our teaching-focused rankings, we wanted internationalisation to be reflected in our understanding of the student experience, and so we looked to add the proportion of international students to the Wall Street Journal/THE US College Rankings and, more recently, to the THE Japan University Rankings .
In the US-focused rankings, the measure is worth 2 per cent, reflecting the size of the country and the fact that, although the US is the top destination for international students, there are many universities from which they can choose. This metric sits alongside indicators of student inclusion (share of first-generation students and students who receive Pell Grants), and student and staff diversity (racial and ethnic diversity) in our Environment pillar.
For the Japan University Rankings, we took a stronger position. As Japan has a declining university-age population, the ability of its universities to attract international students and faculty is seen as a key strategic issue for the country. Here, the proportion of international students and proportion of international staff were each set at 8 per cent initially, making up the Environment pillar.
After feedback from universities, in 2018 we extended this pillar to include other measures: the number of courses taught in a language other than Japanese, and the number of students in various types of international exchange programmes. Each of the four metrics is now worth 5 per cent. These metrics have revealed some interesting insights. The seven Imperial universities in Japan – which are regarded as the most prestigious – perform well, but not as well as the newer, more internationally focused institutions.
Last year, when we launched the inaugural Europe Teaching Rankings, we chose not to include any international metrics. Europe is very different from Japan or the US; our countries are smaller, and mobility is, in theory, more straightforward.
However, this year we have incorporated two international measures to sit alongside metrics on the gender balance of academic staff and the gender balance of students in the Environment pillar: the proportion of international students and the proportion of students who have participated in the European Union’s Erasmus+ student exchange programme.
This will give us insight into both the educational environment provided by students from a wide range of backgrounds and, through Erasmus+, the ability for students to benefit from the opportunity of learning outside their home country. The existence of the programme is a huge benefit to students – giving them the opportunity to participate in an international educational experience in an open Europe – and, from a data point of view, provides a level playing field for measurement.
In the longer term, this indicator may result in difficulties for universities in the UK. The terms of any Brexit deal are uncertain, and it is not clear whether any future UK government would be allowed to participate in the programme, or would choose to spend its money in this way if it could. But, in the absence of a UK replacement scheme, it would be right for this damage to UK student opportunities to be reflected in our rankings.
Duncan Ross is chief data officer at Times Higher Education
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