RANKINGS 2: North America leaves Europe and Asia behind

North American academics are far more willing to share information and publish it online than their European equivalents. This is one of the factors contributing to the continuing dominance of North American universities in the latest edition of the Web Ranking of World Universities published by the Spanish National Research Council's Cybermetrics Lab.

The league table, produced twice yearly since 2004, ranks institutions according to the size and quality of their presence in the internet and its wider impact.

American universities tend to do well in most of the higher education league tables but in the case of the web ranking they make an especially good showing, accounting for all but one of the world's top 34 higher education institutions.

"In other league tables, the US is always top but among the top 10 there is usually another country represented, usually by Cambridge," says Isidro Aguillo, editor of the league table. "Obviously Cambridge is Europe's top university but even so in our ranking it comes in at number 27."

Aguillo is also impressed by the performance of Canadian universities which rank an overall second, "whereas in other tables, they tend to come in at fourth or fifth place," Aguillo says.

He believes the more open mentality of North American academics when it comes to sharing information is a big contributor to the high scores of their institutions.

"In Europe, people often don't publish out of fear that someone might copy their work or use it without their permission," he says. "In the US, people are much more willing to share not just the finished article but also the process that led up to it and even circumstances from their private lives if these are relevant."

European universities still make a poor showing in the table, with the exception of the Scandinavians, especially those from Norway which have moved up to occupy second place in Europe over the past two years.

In Asia, the universities of Japan and South Korea are also punching well below their weight, according to Aguillo.

"They do not bother much about making their content available internationally," he says. "It is not just a matter of whether content has been translated or not, it is often difficult to find an attractive page in English simply presenting the institution."

The latest edition of the Web Ranking of World Universities publishes the scores of 8,000 of the 18,000 institutions surveyed, up from 6,000 in the previous edition in July 2009.

"This way countries which would otherwise not be featured are included," says Aguillo. So coverage of countries such as Hong Kong, Mexico, Turkey and Ukraine has been improved.

The Web Ranking also rates universities within their region, allowing people to pick out the regional top performers who would not figure among the top 500 usually published by other league tables.