GLOBAL: Ranking universities by web popularity

A company that produces an online ranking of the world's universities based on the popularity of their websites has just released its world top 200 institutions for 2010. Called 4 International Colleges and Universities, or, the company describes its website as an online directory of accredited, four-year institutions around the globe.

The organisers did not respond to queries from University World News. But they say on the site their rankings are based on "an algorithm including three unbiased and independent web metrics extracted from three different search engines, Google, Yahoo and Amazon's Alexa, and covers 9,200 institutions in 200 countries".

The first ranking for this year by of 200 universities and colleges inevitably includes top-rating institutions in the US and Europe. But, surprisingly, others find a place as well from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, Spain and even Turkey.

Among the top 20, the US has nine universities, with MIT in first place, followed by Stanford and Harvard, while Britain has two - Cambridge and Oxford - China five and Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Switzerland one each.

The size of a country's population clearly affects the ranking list, as is shown by the number of universities that appear from China, India and Brazil - and Russia. But a nation and the reputation of its institutions are also obviously influential, hence the huge number of US mentions.

Even so, tiny Finland's Tampereen Teknilliner Yliopisto appears at number 32, Turkey's Istanbul Teknik Universitesi at 33 and Chile's Universidad de Concepcion follows at 34. A Canadian institution does not get a mention until number 58 (Toronto University), Germany not until 85 (Freie Universitat Berlin), and Australia only makes an appearance at 135 (Sydney University).

In case any reader believes the ranking is a guide to the quality of education provided by the institutions listed, a prominent disclaimer on the website states: "We do not - by any means - claim to rank organisations, or their programmes, by the quality of education or level of services provided.

"The aim of this website is to provide an approximate popularity ranking of worldwide universities and colleges based on the popularity of their websites. This can especially help international students to understand how popular a specific university/college is in a foreign country."

Despite this, some universities have already put out press releases mentioning their place in this latest list. The New York Times noted that Cornell University was "proud enough of its standing at number 8" for its PR people to mention the fact last week in a press release.

The site says it is free of charge to visitors and the organisations included in the rankings. "No registration is required," the site states. "The directory includes worldwide higher education organisations which are officially accredited or recognised by national or regional bodies. We currently do not include community colleges, vocational colleges or distance learning organisations."

Although the main web page has a "Contact Us" button, this only takes the reader to a page to fill in an email box. The report in The New York Times said the website was produced out of Sydney, Australia, but our efforts to find out more about who established the site and who the backers are were not answered.

A paper written by a Monash University academic, Marian Thakur, on the impact of ranking systems for the Journal of Institutional Research in 2007 mentions the as one of a number of league tables that rank universities according to their presence on the web.

None, however, have the influence of the Shanghai Jiao Tong or the THE rankings which this year will be joined by another set produced by QS, the former partner of the THE after the latter opted last year to establish a new system in partnership with Thomson Reuters.

From Michel Rose
Paris-based journalist

Thanks for your story in the excellent University World News newsletter, which I read every Sunday.

I wanted to let you know my utter confusion as to this new "4ICU" ranking which seems even more biased and useless as other rankings.

My observations concern the position of French institutions in this ranking system.. The first French university only ranks 59th in the top 100 in Europe and it is the university of Caen, a small and obscure school in Normandy, while universities considered here by students as the best institutions are nowhere to be seen. In the top 200 international list, the first French university (Caen again) is only 197th!

So not only does this ranking fail to rank universities "by the quality of education or level of services provided", but it also makes a really poor job at explaining "how popular a specific university/college is in a foreign country".

French scholars, who, as you may know, had to put up with poor performances in other rankings, are increasingly angry at the unfair way the French university system is portrayed by them (after all, France is the fourth most popular student destination in the world).

But this one is absolutely laughable and it seems fair that its creators should be asked to give a bit more explanations as to how they came to this result.

University World News has done a good job at reporting the debates among scholars about this new "ranking bonanza", but I feel it should also take a harder stance against those with dubious results and amateurish methods, emphasise their flaws more strongly, and further question their motives.

I appreciate that you mentionned the hard time you had contacting them and I hope they will get back to you soon with some answers.

I look forward to reading more about this issue.

Michel Rose

COMMENT: is not based on a logic. can be a better choice if web popularity is taken into consideration. It has a vast coverage and suitable methodology for ranking universities. I don't know y there a mention about in UWN without any news - I think is just for making some money through adsense. It used adwords to popularise the site using popular keywords like rankings, university rankings etc in 2008 and 2009 and I think it achieved some good returns. It is not for students to mention, actually. Anyway your look over is appreciated.



Clearly the THES and QS are further along in commercialising a directory of universities for worldwide access. However 4 International Careers & Jobs, originators of the 4I concept, have hit upon a very simple method ( It looks like they simply average three quantified indicators of website popularity. They have set up directories for Higher Education, Media/Newspapers, and Jobs/Careers. In the case of higher education, what that actually means is simply a physical measure of web traffic to institutional sites. In the case of media/newspapers, it might be an indicator of how much traffic they get for advertisers. But .org type sites, the significance is not clear.

Charles Jannuzi