U-Multirank throws up surprises in new league tables

New global university rankings released on 30 March and funded by the European Commission, U-Multirank shows the continuing dominance by US universities for their research publications and patents.

But the results of U-Multirank’s second edition also reveal pockets of excellence around the world, with 148 institutions from 29 countries achieving 10 or more top A grades from the 31 institutional indicators used to compile the rankings.

Launched last year in Brussels, U-Multirank or UMR, set out to break the mould of traditional world university league tables, such as those published by QS, Times Higher Education or THE, and the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Instead of a ‘Top 200’ league table created through composite scores, UMR is a web-based tool designed to encourage ‘like-with-like’ comparisons to find the strongest performing university depending on what users are seeking.

“That could be the best university for inward and outgoing student mobility or co-publications with industry,” said joint project leader, Professor Frank Ziegele, from the Centre for Higher Education, or CHE, in Germany.

This year’s U-Multirank compares the performance of 1,210 higher education institutions – up from 850 last year. They were ranked using a variety of indicators across five dimensions: teaching and learning; research; knowledge transfer; international orientation; and regional engagement.

US challenged for top spots

Universities were examined from 83 countries and the results threw up a number of surprises when compared with the major traditional global rankings: higher education institutions from 39 countries won at least one Top 5 spot in the different indicators.

North American universities dominated most of the research and patent rankings, with Rockefeller, MIT, Stanford, Harvard and Princeton universities clinching the five highest scores for top cited publications.

But they did not have it all their own way: U-Multirank grades universities from A for very good to E for weak and this year published a list of universities with the highest scores in 24 of the 31 indicators it uses to compare institutional performance.

Rockefeller University in New York was the only one to get five Top 5 spots. These were for citation rate; top cited publications; research publications (size-normalised to account for its size); patents awarded (size normalised); and publications cited in patents.

Ranking success for Lomonosov Moscow

Lomonosov Moscow State University joined high-flying Caltech and MIT in the US on the next rung down, gaining four Top 5 positions. The two American universities won their top rankings for patents awarded and research, while Lomonosov was in the top five for both masters and bachelor graduates working in the region, and also for art-related research output.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Lomonosov becoming the highest ranked globally for external research income. While this could be seen as a triumph for President Vladimir Putin’s ambitious 2020 vision of getting five Russian universities in the top 100 world rankings, it also exposes one of the peculiarities of U-Multirank: many of the world’s research-intensive universities still withhold their data from the EU-backed rankings.

Professor Frans van Vught, UMR’s joint project leader from the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies, or CHEPS, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, told University World News: “Lomonosov's top score in research income is based on a comparison with the 672 institutions that actively provided data themselves, and not with the total sample of 1210 institutions.

“Unlike, say, top cited publications or patents awarded, external research income is not a bibliometric indicator and therefore we cannot compare Lomonosov’s data with the Harvards and Oxfords, simply because they have not provided us with the data.”

Mixed fortunes for UK universities

British universities had mixed fortunes in UMR’s second edition, partly because of the reluctance of some of its most prestigious universities to embrace the Brussels-based rankings and supply information.

No British university achieved a Top 5 spot in any of the key indicators, but there were several strong performers among the 12 UK institutions ‘fully participating’ in U-Multirank this year.

Newcastle University gained 17 A scores, winning at least one A grade in all five dimensions. Nottingham achieved 16 A grades and Liverpool gained 15 A scores.

Among the British universities that declined to supply their own data, Cambridge University, Imperial College London and Sheffield University all gained 10 A scores out of the 12 indicators – assessed purely on the basis of bibliometric and patent data.

Australia earns only three stars

Although Australian universities may need convincing about the virtues of U-Multirank, three did achieve at least 10 or more A scores. RMIT University did best with 12 A grades, followed by the University of South Australia with 11 As, and Swinburne getting 10 top grades.

No Australian university featured in any of the Top 5 scores for any indicator. Like the British, their top scores tended to be spread across various dimensions.

Strong European performance

Unsurprisingly, European universities dominated many of the indicators. They overwhelmed the international orientation and regional engagement dimensions and performed strongly on knowledge transfer.

Germany’s Reutlingen University had the highest percentage of co-publications with industry, while three French business schools – EDHEC, ESSEC and IESEG School of Management in Lille – each gained two Top 5 spots for different indicators.

University College Cork in Ireland won the highest overall number of A scores, with 21 top grades spread across all five dimensions. Two Dutch universities shared second and third places, with Eindhoven gaining 20 and Wageningen getting 19.

UMR’s Frank Ziegele said he was encouraged that U-Multirank was showcasing excellence across the globe, with Asian, African and South American universities among those picking up A scores for specific indicators.

Star performers from Africa

Star performers from Africa were the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta in Nigeria; it came second for income from continuous professional development. The University of Namibia was second for international joint publications; the Polytechnic of Namibia was top for masters graduates working in the region; and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa was fourth for income from professional development.

Future plans

Looking to the future, Ziegele said the European Commission was pleased with the performance of the ranking system so far and had pledged to continue its funding until 2017. This would bring the commission’s total investment in U-Multirank to €4 million (US4.3 million) over four years.

“The number of active participants is up from 520 in our first year to just over 670 and we’re on target to have 1,000 fully participating universities by 2017. We’ve got nearly every university in countries like Spain, and there’s lots of interest from outside Europe, particularly from Japan,” he said.

“Next year we’re expanding the fields of study ranked; and we’re hoping by 2017 to attract sufficient funding from philanthropic international foundations to allow us to continue to provide an open source of comparable data for students, universities and other interested users.”

Final word goes to Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, who said: “U-Multirank has once again shown its added value. I am very pleased that with the seed funding for U-Multirank from the Erasmus+ programme, the EU is helping to bring new transparency to how universities perform so students can make well-informed study choices and universities can build on their strengths.”

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 .

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