Written by Jack Grove 7 February 2013
A group representing some of Europe's leading universities has withdrawn its support for a new ranking system funded by the European Union, warning that it could pose "a serious threat" to higher education.
The League of European Research Universities, which represents 21 leading research-intensive universities, has disassociated itself from the U-Multirank project, which is due to publish its first results in early 2014.
At a cost of €2 million (£1.7 million), the scheme aims to offer an alternative to ranking systems that are focused mainly on research excellence and will grade universities in five areas - research, teaching, internationalisation, knowledge transfer and contribution to regional growth.
Launched in Dublin on 30 January, the ranking system will not produce a league table for universities, but hopes to provide a broader set of information to potential students.
However, several higher education institutions are refusing to release data to the project and Leru has severed its links with the scheme.
Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of Leru, said the organisation, whose members include the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, believes the project is ill-conceived and poorly designed.
"We consider U-Multirank, at best an unjustifiable use of taxpayers' money and at worst a serious threat to a healthy higher education system," he said. "Leru has serious concerns about the lack of reliable, solid and valid data for the chosen indicators in U-Multirank, about the comparability between countries, about the burden put upon universities to collect data and about the lack of 'reality-checks' in the process thus far."
However, speaking shortly before the scheme's launch, Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, insisted it would provide valuable information.
"It will contribute to the modernisation and quality of higher education by enabling universities to identify their strengths or weaknesses and learn from each other's experience," she said.
Jack Grove is a reporter for the Times Higher Education