US university dominance challenged by new ranking

The United States’ dominance of the international university rankings is challenged in the latest edition of U-Multirank released on 4 April.

Supported by the European Commission, U-Multirank claims to be the largest global university ranking and this year looks in detail at the diversity of strengths of more than 1,300 universities from some 90 countries.

While North American universities dominate research performance, the picture is more varied when it comes to knowledge transfer, international orientation, regional engagement, and teaching and learning.

Professor Frans van Vught, U-Multirank’s joint project leader, said: “Among the wealth of data is a set of 10 performance lists showing 25 top-performing universities according to different U-Multirank indicators.

“These show that the long-held esteem for American universities relies on a particularly narrow view of the purpose of higher education.”

Van Vught said 780 universities worldwide were now actively participating in U-Multirank – up from 672 last year. These institutions share their data and information with the project organisers. For other universities, U-Multirank relies on publicly available data.

“For some countries like Spain, Switzerland, Norway and Austria, nearly the whole system is taking part.”

Performance by category

US universities dominate many of the research lists, such as ‘top cited publications’, with Rockefeller University, MIT, Stanford and Harvard outperforming the rest of the world.

But the North Americans don’t have it all their own way.

Germany took the top three spots for ‘co-publications with industrial partners’, with Reutlingen University of Applied Science, Nuremberg Institute of Technology and Munich University of Applied Sciences leading the pack. No US university made the top 25 list for this key knowledge transfer indicator.

American universities were also absent from the two key indicators for international orientation.

European business and management schools took the top 10 slots for inward and outward student mobility, with France’s IESEG School of Management, Lille and the Varna University of Management in Bulgaria leading the pack.

University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt in Austria was the top performer for ‘international joint publications’ followed by the University of Liechtenstein and King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.

Van Vught told University World News: “A key to U-Multirank is that it highlights how universities in smaller countries often outperform those in larger countries for international orientation. US universities tend to work with one another in their American system.”

While U-Multirank says it is not a league table combining scores to produce overall winners, its lists show top performers for various selected areas.

Unique indicators

Some of these indicators are unique to U-Multirank, says van Vught.

Regional engagement, for example, is judged by a university’s research publications having at least one co-author within 50 kilometres. Here the top performers were Hanze University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in Russia and Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon in Portugal.

Among the indicators for knowledge transfer is income from continuous professional development. The Siberian Institute of Business in Russia led this category, followed by IPAC School of Management, Annecy in France and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta in Nigeria.

An area of research where the US didn’t dominate was interdisciplinary publications. Institute of Technology Tallaght in Ireland and the China Medical University in Taiwan took the top two spots.

New for 2016

A number of new subject areas have been included in the 2016 edition of U-Multirank to allow comparisons for teaching and learning.

These include mathematics, chemistry and biology and Spain’s University of Barcelona and the University of Lodz in Poland took the top two spots for student-staff ratios.

The 2016 edition of U-Multirank is the third produced by the European Commission-supported consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education in Germany and, in the Netherlands, the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University.

Van Vught said: “We are happy with the amount of cooperation from universities worldwide. Many are clearly enthusiastic about U-Multirank since it shows individual strengths and profiles and offers a rich database for benchmarking with other institutions.”

UK reluctant to engage

He told University World News that while U-Multirank was getting “closer and closer” to being accepted as the standard for ranking institutions for a variety of indicators on a world scale “there are still countries where we struggle to be fully accepted” and the United Kingdom remains the most difficult country for us to engage.

“We, of course, have all the bibliometric and patent data available on all UK institutions and 48 UK institutions feature in U-Multirank this year. But the number of actively participating UK institutions is still limited compared to many other systems. Last year it was 12, this year it is 13.”

Van Vught said some UK institutions still see U-Multirank as a European Commission attempt to make sure the European universities do better than they do in other rankings.

“This is not really fair as we are as objective as other rankings, or perhaps even more since we don’t use subjective weights for indicators, and there are more than 90 countries involved.”

“The United States is less of a problem than the UK,” Van Vught added.

From next year, U-Multirank plans to pre-fill the US institutions’ questionnaires with data from IPEDS, the federal US data system.

“Currently 168 US universities are in U-Multirank and we hope to enrol many more next year based on these pre-filled questionnaires which we will ask the universities to look at.

Van Vught said the target of reaching 1,000 active U-Multirank participants is on track for next year and that U-Multirank is talking to the Chinese Ministry of Education about “an experimental situation” whereby a number of Chinese institutions will participate.

Readymade rankings, new web tool

To coincide with the 2016 U-Multirank, a ‘readymade’ ranking of research and research linkages shows individual university performance in this key area.

A ranking of performance in teaching and learning will be released next week using feedback from more than 105,000 students in participating universities.

Safi Sabuni, president of the Erasmus Student Network, said that with growing student mobility ‘there is a need for university comparisons across all different aspects of performance excellence like internationalisation and teaching and learning, and U-Multirank does just that with its multi-dimensional approach”.

A new mobile web tool has also been created to help U-Multirank users create their own personalised rankings on their smart phone or tablet.

Professor Frank Ziegele, U-Multirank’s second joint project leader, said the new lists showed again the many different ways universities could demonstrate excellence. While research was important, “diversity of purpose is critical to the strength of higher education as a whole”.

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.