BRUSSELS: Europe to launch new global rankings

A global university ranking exercise, rivalling those of China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Britain's QS-Times Higher Education, is set to be launched in 2011. This follows a European Commission decision last week to award a four-country consortium of institutions a contract to design and test "a new multi-dimensional" rankings system.

The study will take two years and cost EUR1.1 million. Of this, 30% will be spent on designing an alternative ranking system and the rest on testing its feasibility in at least 150 institutions in the fields of engineering and business studies.

The tender to Design and Test the Feasibility of a Multi-dimensional Global University Ranking was won by the CHERPA-Network consortium comprising seven institutions and organisations from The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France. It will be led by the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at Twente University in Holland and Germany's Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung.

The European ranking system will be independent, "robust" and measure higher education's core functions of research, teaching and outreach, says the tender's terms of reference.

It will cover all types of higher education institutions in and outside Europe - particularly in North America, Asia and Australia - and will enable comparisons and benchmarking of similar institutions at the institutional and field levels.

The tender document says this will help institutions better position themselves and improve their development strategies, quality and performance. It will enable stakeholders, especially students, to make informed choices between institutions and programmes - which existing rankings do not do because they focus only on research and entire institutions, it adds.

European countries have long been concerned about the performance of their universities in the world's two major rankings. They place part of the blame on the ranking systems themselves, which they complain put too much emphasis on research and institutional size, and too little on teaching and subject disciplines.

In the last Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking, the whole of continental Europe had only 23 universities in the top 100.

Last week, Odile Quintin, European Commission Director-General for Education, told The Australian newspaper: "We think that universities have a strong role in research but also in teaching and employability so we are promoting an alternative ranking to measure all these dimensions."

The tender document notes that the commission already supports several initiatives in the field of higher education quality and transparency. These could inform the design and fine-tuning of a multi-dimensional ranking that covers the various functions of institutions in the areas of education, research and innovation.

"Existing rankings have a tendency to focus on research in 'hard sciences' and ignore the performance of universities in areas like humanities and social sciences, teaching quality and community outreach," it states.

Design of the new ranking system will begin this month with a final report to be submitted by the end of the year. The tender document says that as well being independent and robust, it should combine different sources of information, specify the contexts of educational systems - linguistic, cultural, economic and historical -and apply quality assurance measures.

Testing will take place next year and must include a representative sample of at least 150 institutions with different missions in and outside Europe. At least six institutions should be drawn from the six large EU member states, one to three from the other 21, plus 25 institutions in North America, 25 in Asia and three in Australia.

A 'pre-final' report on the testing phase is due in November next year, followed by stakeholder workshops to discuss the findings until April 2011. Thereafter the European ranking system will be finalised and launched.

* The other partners in the CHERPA-Network Consortium are the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University, France's Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques Paris and, from Belgium, the Research Division INCENTIM of Leuven University, the European Federation of National Engineering Associations and the European Foundation for Management Development.