EUROPE: U-Multirank pilot study underway

While universities were digesting the results of the three major world rankings, the European U-Multirank consortium launched a study into a new multi-dimensional global ranking aimed at comparing similar institutions and programmes in terms of their missions and profiles. This month it announced that 107 institutions from more than 40 countries had joined the study.

U-Multirank has been planned for some time, and presented at conferences and stakeholder meetings. The purpose is to "design and test the feasibility of a multi-dimensional global university ranking", according to its website.

Earlier this month the International Rankings Expert Group's Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence, established to develop quality assurance mechanisms for rankings, announced that that it would begin a trial audit of some rankings.

It was concern over the narrow focus of existing rankings, on a few indicators of university activities and with little relation to the multiple purposes of institutions, that prompted the European Commission to tender and fund a feasibility study into a new ranking system.

Speaking at the recent annual conference of the European University Association held in Palermo, Italy, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Androulla Vassiliou supported the work of U-Multirank and said:

"Better information will help students make an informed choice on where and what to study. They and other stakeholders - potential business or research partners, or public authorities, for example - should have all the facts at their fingertips, when choosing their university."

The EC rankings study tender was awarded to the Consortium for Higher Education and Research Performance Assessment, CHERPA, in collaboration with the European Association of National Engineering Organisations and the European Foundation for Management Development.

The CHERPA partners are the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente in The Netherlands, the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) in Germany, the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands, the research division INCENTIM at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and the Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques in France.

Professor Frans van Vugt of CHEPS and Professor Frank Ziegle of CHE are U-Multirank's project leaders, and the pilot study's coordinator is John File at CHEPS.

The institutions agree that existing international university rankings could have a negative effect on diversity in the higher education sector by encouraging universities to engage in a costly race for short-term prestige, and that a new methodology is badly needed.

The feasibility study will include focused institutional rankings and field-based rankings.

Focused rankings compare institutions along a single aspect of activity such as research or internationalisation. A multi-dimensional approach would not "collapse all dimensions into one rank" but would provide a fair picture of institutions across a range of dimensions.

Comparisons across institutions would be based on their performance on a single dimension, with institutions "expected to have different comparative results on different dimensions", the CHERPA website explains.

"The set of the 'scores' of an individual institution on the whole set of dimensions of the classification defines the institution's profile."

A field-based ranking is a multi-dimensional ranking of a set of programmes in a field or discipline, to be interpreted within the wider context provided by the multi-dimensional classification of entire institutions.

"Achieving field-based rankings within meaningful classifications of institutions is a major aim of the project," according to CHERPA.

U-Multirank wrote to institutions in more than 40 countries. In the coming years it will design and select appropriate indicators, develop data collection instruments and apply rankings to some 150 institutions in the pilot study.

The universities selected are active in the fields of either mechanical or electrical engineering, or business, the two fields chosen for the field-based rankings.

In addition, some institutions will be measured on indicators covering five dimensions in the multi-dimensional institutional ranking. Data will be gathered via an online questionnaire, and institutions will be asked to arrange for students to complete an online student survey.

The pilot project is expected to be completed by June next year.

o Last month Research Europe reported that universities in Norway and Denmark had raised concerns over methods used in the 2010 world ranking produced by Times Higher Education. The University of Copenhagen dropped from 51st in 2009 to 177th in 2010. Danish Science Minister Charlotte Sahl-Madsen told Research Europe she would probe the results.

Related links

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