THE Impact Rankings 2021: new methodology announced

We have published the methodology for the 2021 edition of the table, which makes it easier for postgraduate institutions to take part, says Duncan Ross

September 19, 2020
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Two weeks ago, we launched our 2021 World University Rankings. While there were some significant changes – including the rise of Chinese universities and the subsequent decline of some Western institutions – a familiar group of research-intensive UK and US universities once again led the list.

But research is not the only important value of universities. Many institutions across the world play a huge role in contributing to society through their teaching, their outreach, their stewardship and their own operations. But this work often gets overlooked.

That’s why in 2019 we launched our Impact Rankings, which measure universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The first two editions of the table feature several well-established research players, but they also include hundreds of less well-known institutions, many of which do not produce the volume of research to be eligible for our World University Rankings but are undertaking fantastic work in other areas.

Next year, we will publish the third edition of our Impact Rankings, and we encourage institutions across the world to take part.

We will open the data collection portal on 1 October and aim to close the portal at the end of November. This will allow for additional checks on the data submitted before the publication of the ranking in April.

2021 methodology
For the first time, we are publishing the methodology for the ranking in advance. This will give universities extra time to prepare the data and compile the evidence that they might want to select for submission.

The new methodology document is available here. It is mostly the same as the 2020 version, but we have simplified how questions are phrased to improve the consistency between the different metric scores.

Postgraduate universities
One major adjustment is around the rules for participation. For the past two years, we have focused on undergraduate teaching institutions. We have allowed postgraduate-only institutions to participate, but in doing so they were at a disadvantage.

We have now changed the methodology to explicitly allow postgraduate universities to submit data. This means that some questions have been reworded. For example, when asking about students, we allow institutions to include students at all appropriate levels of study.

University boundaries
In another change, we will ask universities to be clear about the physical location/s of the institution for which they are submitting data. Many universities are part of multi-campus systems or have sites in several cities or countries. This perimeter definition will be an important step in understanding the different shapes of universities and will become a common feature across all our data collection processes.

We don’t expect every part of the university to be listed, but any major exclusions must be noted and a rationale for doing so provided. At a minimum, we expect a university’s main campus to be part of the data submission, but depending on the structure of the university, it may also be relevant to include other campuses, university hospitals, farms, museums and so on.

We hope this will help universities to submit a consistent set of data, ensuring that the different teams that may be contributing towards the submission know what to include and what is outside its scope.

Advisory board
A final non-methodological change is the announcement that we will be recruiting a new advisory board to provide guidance and oversight of the methodology going forward. We hope that this will be in place by the time the rankings launch in April and will ensure that the interests of universities and their staff are acknowledged.

I will be working to make sure that the new board is diverse, both geographically and in terms of the types of universities represented, so we can ensure that the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals is reflected in any adjustments made and insights provided.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Duncan Ross is chief data officer at Times Higher Education.

Register here to take part in our Impact Rankings 2021.

We have compiled a list of frequently asked questions about our Impact Rankings, but if you have any further questions, email

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