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Universities divided on value of new rankings: EUA
Universities remain divided on the value of U-Multirank, the new multidimensional ranking of universities, although most will continue to contribute data to it, a consultation of European University Association members has found.

The survey showed that U-Multirank, or UMR – launched last year with seed funding from the European Commission – is still struggling with many of the same challenges as other rankings with regard to comparability and reliability of data.

Many of its indicators, especially those relating to teaching and learning, are “rather remote proxies to quality or performance”, the report of the survey concludes.

“It will be interesting to see how UMR will attempt to address or overcome these challenges in future,” it says.

Survey

The survey was carried out in the autumn of 2014 for the European University Association, or EUA, which represents 850 member institutions in 47 countries, with a total student enrolment of 17 million.

Some 85 universities from 26 countries that had taken part in UMR responded to the survey, representing nearly 30% of EUA members which had participated in the ranking.

The report of the survey, written by Tia Loukkola and Rita Morais, found that the approaches on how to use rankings for the benefit of universities are “not very systematic or carefully considered”.

“Developing institutional research capacity so as to be able to respond swiftly and efficiently to requests for data is vital,” it added. “And there is a need to discuss whether an international common dataset on higher education would be possible in order to overcome the challenges in applying indicators for various purposes.”

The report said one third of EUA members contributed to the first round of UMR. But others are waiting to see how the initiative develops before joining.

Whether they took part or not, the EUA members expressed major concerns regarding the interpretation of UMR indicators across different institutions and countries and thus the validity of the data provided. But similar concern was voiced by those who did actively provide data – about challenges in collecting the data.

Many of those providing data to UMR were surprised by the amount of work involved and the considerable resources required.

A small minority was not happy with the way the data was presented in the final results.

The benefits of participation for an individual university are not clear to universities. Four in ten institutions have no plans to use the results of UMR or do not yet know how they would do so.

Divided opinions

The authors say the divided opinions of EUA members reflect some findings of an earlier EUA study in 2014 on the impact of rankings on institutional strategies and processes, the first pan-European study of its kind.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of universities said they intended to contribute data to the next round of UMR.

The main reasons given were to use UMR to benchmark their universities against others and gain more visibility to attract students and researchers; to use the UMR results internally to reflect on the position of the university and improve internal procedures; and because they see the UMR as a “relevant or prestigious ranking that brings benefits to participating universities”.

An unnamed Spanish university said: “We think being included in U-Multirank would make our strengths visible to other institutions and especially the student community.”

Another Spanish university said: “We firmly believe that it is a very interesting and prestigious, high international impact ranking.”

However, one in four universities surveyed said they were not planning to contribute data to the next round of UMR. Many of them feared the benefits of participating would not outweigh the costs.

A university from Austria said: “We are involved in several ranking activities, which all require lots of resources for collecting and preparing the required data. Several of these initiatives are not satisfactory, either regarding the interactions with the ranking agency or the methodology used for the ranking.”

Background

UMR is a multidimensional ranking of higher education institutions developed by a consortium led by the German-based Centre for Higher Education and the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

It was launched at the initiative of the European Commission, which said the intention was to provide a performance-based ranking and information tool to “radically improve the transparency of the higher education sector”.

The aim was to move away from the research focus of other rankings to cover a range of dimensions – teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation, and regional engagement.

The first results of UMR were unveiled on 13 May 2014.

The UMR rankings on international orientation were released earlier this month, with French institutions taking six of the 27 top spots.

The EUA survey was commissioned after the organisation’s governing bodies discussed the ranking on a number of occasions and concluded that since some members expressed major concerns about the initiative – while others had great expectations – the association should remain vigilant and monitor the project objectively.

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