France dominates new rankings for internationalisation

France dominated new higher education rankings for internationalisation last week – taking six of the 27 top spots.

The rankings based on ‘international orientation’ were produced by U-Multirank, the independent consortium supported by €2 million (US$2.3 million) of seed funding from the European Commission.

All the top scoring institutions – those gaining four ‘A’ grades across a range of indicators including student mobility, international academic staff, international joint publications and international doctoral degrees – were located in 12 different European Union or European Economic Area, or EEA, nation states.

This provoked renewed criticism from Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, who told University World News that many of the best known university brand names, such as Oxford and Harvard, were missing from the U-Multirank table because they declined to supply requested data.

U-Multirank claims it is breaking a new mould for university rankings by reflecting both the diversity of higher education institutions and the variety of university excellence in an international context.

Six of the best in France

The top scorers included some surprises, with six French institutions among the 27 gaining four straight ‘A’ grades.

Austria had four gaining top marks, with Belgium and the Netherlands both having three. Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland had two, while Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Slovenia and the UK each had one top-scoring institution for international orientation.

In its analysis of the results U-Multirank concluded that top research universities are not necessarily strong when it comes to international research cooperation as measured by the proportion of international joint publications. In addition, many leading US research universities only perform modestly in terms of their proportions of international faculty and students.

However, the EU-supported ranking organisers say not too much should be read into the relative poor performance of the UK and the US because U-Multirank representation varies by country and is not particularly strong in the UK and the United States in terms of institutions that currently supply data to them.

Results defended

Despite this, Frank Ziegele, one of the U-Multirank project leaders, defended the results, saying: “They show that a strong performance on internationalisation is not only found in comprehensive universities, but also in institutions with a thematic focus such as Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, business schools like HEC Paris, or technically oriented institutions such as EPF Lausanne and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.”

This is the first time U-Multirank has published what it calls ‘ready-made’ results to compare how universities perform for international orientation – and fellow project leader Frans van Vught accepts: “The results are not necessarily the institutions you would expect to perform best.”

He sees this as one of U-Multirank’s strengths. “These rankings identify high-performing universities not captured by other rankings with their heavy research focus,” he said.

Diverse group

In an attempt to compare ‘like with like’, the U-Multirank table for international orientation only compared the performance of 237 PhD-awarding institutions with a student body comprising more than 7.5% of international students from their database.

The 27 institutions scoring the highest grades proved to be a very diverse group: small and large, specialised and comprehensive, public and private, older and newer.

However, two types of institutions stood out – the French Grandes Ecoles and specialised technological, science and agricultural universities. They were both over-represented relative to their overall ‘share’ of the higher education landscape.

Among the top-performing 27 institutions out of the 237 compared, Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Paris, or HEC Paris, did particularly well, scoring in the top ten in three of the four assessed indicators.

University of St Gallen in Switzerland and Central European University in Budapest also performed strongly, with top ten marks in two indicators.

For a more detailed analysis of the sample of 237 institutions and the group of 27 strong all-round performers and comparisons with the QS, THE and Leiden rankings, see this link.

Global comparisons

Only 11 of the 27 top-scoring U-Multirank institutions for internationalisation feature in the Top 200 of the 2014 Times Higher Education, or THE, World University Rankings.

U-Multirank, in its analysis, says the reason why the other 16 are missing from the THE World University Rankings has nothing to do with their internationalisation performance, but because research and research-related indicators account for 70% of the THE composite score. The THE World University Ranking's Top 400 overall are thus constructed "primarily on research and research-related performance", U-Multirank argued.

By the same token, some top performers in the THE World University Rankings do not make it into the top 27 of the U-Multirank internationalization ranking, the aim of which is to highlight strong all-round performers in terms of internationalisation among universities participating in U-Multirank.

ETH Zürich, for example, a participant in U-Multirank and a leading research-intensive university, missed out on being among the top 27 because it scored only a ‘B’ for student mobility. Yet it is 13th in the THE World University Rankings.

Phil Baty, editor of the THE World University Rankings, told University World News there were clear differences between his paper’s approach to rankings and U-Multirank’s.

“We only look at universities that should be and would want to be compared at a global level – world class research-led universities. Oxford will look to Harvard, for example.

“They may have different sizes and shapes and histories but they are hiring globally and publishing research globally.

“This means that we have a total population of perhaps no more than 1,000 institutions to work with. This also means that we can get a full picture of all of these institutions, and compare them against their own missions.

He said THE World University Rankings just lifted the international outlook data from the overall World University Rankings to create its list of most international universities. “It does mean that we are only drawing from the world rankings, which are of course focused on research-intensive, globally facing institutions.”

Frank Ziegele for U-Multirank said: “Our results should be taken seriously. While the Times Higher claims to show the ‘100 most international universities’ there is a limitation because they only focus on the comprehensive research-intensive higher education institutions.”

The second edition of the U-Multirank rankings covering five dimensions of university performance is due to be published in March 2015. It will include 1,200 higher education institutions, with nearly 700 fully participating in U-Multirank. This is up from 900 higher education institutions when the first U-Multirank was published last year.

“So U-Multirank will offer the highest number of institutions included in any global ranking worldwide,” says Ziegele.

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist who runs De la Cour Communications. He regularly blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ association, EUPRIO, and on his website.