A refined instrument

January 1, 1990
Source: Peter Searle

We identify the world’s finest and our transparent, rigorous tables can claim similar status, argues Phil Baty

This is the 10th year that Times Higher Education has published its annual World University Rankings – and we have come a long way in a decade.

Looked at with the benefit of hindsight, those first global rankings in 2004 were painfully rudimentary: they employed just five performance indicators, giving a 50 per cent weighting to subjective opinion expressed in a tiny survey, and a remarkably generous 20 per cent to staff-to-student ratios as a flimsy proxy for teaching quality. Even today, some rankers grab the odd headline and attract the eye of university marketing departments by relying on such simplistic methods.

But times have changed. A decade ago there were about 2.5 million students studying outside their home nations; today the figure is 4 million. Then, about 25 per cent of all research papers in top journals were the result of international collaboration; today, the figure is nearer 40 per cent. According to the Royal Society’s Knowledge, Networks and Nations report, in 2011 there were more than 7 million researchers globally being funded by a combined research and development spend of more than £650 billion.

Higher education is global, and there is a hunger for richer and more sophisticated data at that level among students and their families to help them decide on study destinations; among academics to inform partnerships and career decisions; among industry authorities to forge investment strategies; and among university and political leaders to illuminate policy.

Here THE delivers. With data collected, analysed and verified by Thomson Reuters since 2010, the THE World University Rankings employ 13 separate performance indicators across the broad spectrum of world-class university activity.

The current methodology was created during 2009-10 after a root-and-branch review of the old simplistic rankings, informed by a global survey of user needs and concerns, open consultation with the sector and detailed input from an expert advisory group. Today’s rankings draw on about 50 million journal citations to some 6 million articles and a survey of almost 60,000 respondents since 2010.

So it is fitting that the THE rankings, and their growing range of spin-offs, are the most highly regarded by the highest levels of government. For example, Shashi Tharoor, India’s minister of state for human resource development, has declared: “Times Higher Education is widely seen as the principal yardstick we should look to.” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has targeted progress in our tables as part of his government’s economic plans, and they are used in similar ways in Brazil, Russia and elsewhere.

And transparency is key to what we do: Allan Goodman, president of the independent Institute of International Education, has spoken of our “exemplary” approach to opening up our data to users.

Founded in 1971, THE draws upon not only a decade of experience in producing global rankings but also 42 years of serving the higher education community to bring you this vital analysis today.

Phil Baty is editor, Times Higher Education Rankings.


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