Impact Rankings 2021: methodology

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings measure global universities’ success in delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Here, we explain how we arrived at the results

April 14, 2021
Impact Rankings logo

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We use carefully calibrated indicators to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons across four broad areas: researchstewardshipoutreach and teaching.

Definitions of areas 

Research: the most obvious and traditional way that a university might help to deliver the SDGs is by creating research in relevant topics.

Stewardship: universities are custodians of significant resources; not just physical resources, but also their employees, faculty and students. How they act as stewards is one of the key factors in delivering the SDGs.

Outreach: place is critical in higher education, and the work that universities do with their local, regional, national and international communities is another key way that they can have an impact on sustainability.

Teaching: teaching plays a critical role, both in ensuring that there are enough skilled practitioners to deliver on the SDGs, and in making sure that all alumni take forward the key lessons of sustainability into their future careers.

Which SDGs are included?

There are 17 UN SDGs and we are evaluating university performance on all of them in our third edition of the ranking (click on a category below to view its specific methodology):

Universities can submit data on as many of these SDGs as they are able. Each SDG has a series of metrics that are used to evaluate the performance of the university on that SDG. 

Any university that provides data on SDG 17 and at least three other SDGs is included in the overall ranking.

As well as the overall ranking, we also publish the results of each individual SDG in 17 separate tables.

How is the ranking created?

A university’s final score in the overall table is calculated by combining its score in SDG 17 with its top three scores out of the remaining 16 SDGs. SDG 17 accounts for 22 per cent of the overall score, while the other SDGs each carry a weight of 26 per cent. This means that different universities are scored based on a different set of SDGs, depending on their focus.

The score from each SDG is scaled so that the highest score in each SDG in the overall calculation is 100 and the lowest score is 0. This is to adjust for minor differences in the scoring range in each SDG and to ensure that universities are treated equitably, whichever SDGs they have provided data for. It is these scaled scores that we use to determine which SDGs a university has performed most strongly in; they may not be the SDGs in which the university is ranked highest or has scored highest based on unscaled scores.

The metrics for the 17 SDGs are included on their individual methodology pages.

Scoring within an SDG

There are three categories of metrics within each SDG:

Research metrics are derived from data supplied by Elsevier. For each SDG, a specific query has been created that narrows the scope of the metric to publications relevant to that SDG. This is supplemented by additional publications identified by artificial intelligence. As with the World University Rankings, we are using a five-year window between 2015 and 2019. The only exception is the metric on patents that cite research under SDG 9, which relates to the time frame in which the patents were published rather than the time frame of the research itself. The metrics chosen for the bibliometrics differ by SDG and there are always at least two bibliometric measures used.

Continuous metrics measure contributions to impact that vary continually across a range – for example, the number of graduates with a health-related degree. These are usually normalised to the size of the institution.

When we ask about policies and initiatives – for example, the existence of mentoring programmes – our metrics require universities to provide the evidence to support their claims. In these cases, we give credit for the evidence and for the evidence being public. These metrics are not usually size-normalised.

Evidence is evaluated against a set of criteria and decisions are cross-validated where there is uncertainty. Evidence is not required to be exhaustive – we are looking for examples that demonstrate best practice at the institutions concerned.

Time frame

Unless otherwise stated, the data used refer to the closest academic year to January to December 2019.

Exclusions

The ranking is open to any university that teaches at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. Although research activities form part of the methodology, there is no minimum research requirement for participation.

THE reserves the right to exclude universities that they believe have falsified data, or are no longer in good standing.

Data collection

Institutions provide and sign off their institutional data for use in the rankings. On the rare occasions when a particular data point is not provided, we enter a value of zero.

The methodology was developed in conjunction with our partners Vertigo Ventures and Elsevier, and after consultation with and input from individual universities, academics and sector groups.

View the full methodology for the THE Impact Rankings 2021 here

Please Login or Register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Sponsored

Featured jobs

Associate Professor in Marketing

Edinburgh Napier University

Lecturer in Information Systems

Cranfield University

Clinical Psychologist

University Of Southampton

Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing

University Of Lincoln