18 October 2012
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings make a "valuable contribution" to comparing different universities across the globe, a House of Lords debate has heard
Introducing a debate on a Lords committee report published earlier this year titled The Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe, Baroness Young of Hornsey said her committee had been impressed by the rankings' rigour and methodology.
"Existing rankings which depend on multiple indicators, such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, can make a valuable contribution to assessing the relative merits of universities around the world," Baroness Young said in the debate on 11 October.
She also commented on the European Commission's proposal for a new European university ranking, U-Multirank, which she said "had some positive characteristics but should not be considered a priority at this stage".
Her comments were echoed by Baroness Sharp of Guildford, a former lecturer in economics at the London School of Economics.
"The commission's most substantive proposal is the launching of yet another set of league tables ranking universities within the European Union: the U-Multirank, a 'ranking and information tool', as it is called," she said.
"I have to say that I fully endorse the scepticism shown by the committee and the government about whether this will serve any useful purpose."
Earlier in the debate, Baroness Sharp said she shared concerns of the European Commission that Europe was not "holding its own" in the higher education league tables - a view reinforced by the 2012-13 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, published this month, which saw institutions in Asia climbing the table.
The debate centred on the report by a Lords EU sub-committee, which made a series of recommendations to increase the number of British students studying at universities in continental Europe.
However, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve returned to the issue of the proposed U-Multirank scheme, which should be available for use by the end of 2013.
"It is potentially expensive, it is unlikely to improve the quality of universities in the EU, and it is unlikely to contribute to their excellence in any way," said the professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge and former president of the British Academy.
The need for a U-Multirank was outdated as European universities were now climbing traditional rankings tables after adapting their systems to suit some of the metrics used, she added.
"One might wonder why, given that the problem has to some extent been cracked, and European universities are now doing reasonably well using the existing metrics, the EU is still bent on devising a further ranking system.
"I think the answer is that one has to go back to when these rankings first emerged, less than a decade ago...and people were horrified that almost no European universities outside the UK were even in the top 100.
"The UK had some in the top 10 and a good number in the top 100. It was galling for institutions of high reputation and long history to find themselves with such low rankings."
Jack Grove, Times Higher Education