New data creates world’s largest university ranking

U-Multirank has published a new release of data drawn from 1,500 universities, creating the world’s largest university ranking, and throwing a spotlight on high-performing universities that might not be picked up by traditional international university rankings.

This is the fourth year of U-Multirank’s user-driven rankings – in which users can select the indicators they wish to use for comparison. It involves more universities than before and claims to identify “hidden gem” universities that are bold new competitors on the world stage in a host of different areas.

In a statement U-Multirank said other rankings focus on research citations and highlight a familiar selection of well-known institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and Yale.

“However, because U-Multirank allows users to compare universities based on what matters to them, it also reveals the other strong performers in areas as diverse as research, teaching and learning, knowledge transfer, internationalisation and regional engagement.”

Students wanting to identify the best performers in different disciplines can consult rankings across 16 subject areas, using up to 39 indicators.

“For example, in the engineering and computer science subjects, U-Multirank shows that Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria and the University of Málaga in Spain perform strongly when looking at student-staff ratios, a key indicator in teaching and learning performance,” U-Multirank said.

“This gives students an ability to make informed choices of the best universities for their interest. Students are also able to identify universities that do well in terms of international linkages and student mobility.”

But university leaders can choose the same or a different set of indicators to help them devise institutional strategies.

“We are trying to do something different,” said Professor Dr Frans van Vught, U-Multirank's joint project leader. “We don’t provide league tables. Instead we suggest to students, university leaders, policy-makers and employers that they can pick and choose the indicators that you think relevant from your perspective.

“The perspective of students is very different to that of university leaders and they will use a different constellation of indicators. It is a user-driven approach because we believe that no one selection of indicators is better than another; it depends on who is going to use it and for what purpose."

Ready-made rankings

This year U-Multirank has provided two ready-made rankings as examples of what users can do by putting seven indicators together that are related to the same broad area.

The first on 'Research and Research Linkages', U-Multirank shows several well-known universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT and Harvard University, excelling in research performance.

It covers seven indicators within these areas:
  • • Research: citation rate, research publications (absolute numbers), research publications (size-normalised) and top cited publications.
  • • Knowledge transfer: co-publication with industrial partners.
  • • International orientation: international joint publications.
  • • Regional engagement: regional joint publications.
However, because U-Multirank draws on a wide pool of universities and uses a broad range of measures, it also reveals a number of small and specialised institutions that outperform the predictable high performers in research impact.

There are six institutions that score six A-scores out of seven. These thus are the ‘best’ institutions according to this selection of indicators. They are the Institute for Cancer Research and St George's Hospital Medical School, both in the UK; the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, both in The Netherlands; Pierre and Marie Curie University, France; and the National University of Singapore.

The second ready-made ranking, on 'Applied Knowledge Partnerships', shows that the University of Deusto in Spain, as well as Nuremberg Institute of Technology in Germany, outperform many others when it comes to transferring academic knowledge and research into practical and commercial benefits.

Applied Knowledge Partnerships covers seven indicators in three areas:
  • • Research: art related output, strategic research partnerships, professional publications.
  • • Knowledge transfer: Co-publications with industrial partners, income from continuous professional development, graduate companies (that is, companies started by an institution’s graduates).
  • • Regional engagement: income from regional sources.
This ranking shows two institutions that score five As out of seven: Audencia Business School, France; and University of Deusto, Spain. It also shows two universities with four A-scores: ICN Business School, France; and Nuremberg Institute of Technology, Germany.

“This ready-made ranking tries to capture a completely different profile than the research intensive universities. This is more focused on institutions not heavily involved in research but in working together with industry, being an engine in their region, reaching out to the labour market, and in many cases providing training,” Van Vught said.

The ‘art related output’ indicator is defined as the number of scholarly outputs in the creative and performing arts, relative to the number of full-time equivalent academic staff. This indicator has been developed to allow the ‘art institutions’ to be visible in U-Multirank, Van Vught added.

“The’products’ of ‘art institutions’ usually are not presented as scholarly publications/articles/books, so their output is not found in the ’traditional’ indicators on publications and citations. For all other disciplines/fields this problem does not exist. They are able to show their research output in these publications/citations indicators.”

There are an estimated 20,000 universities or similar institutions in the world and being able to choose which indicators you use to compare them, enables users to look at universities with particular types of profiles not captured in traditional rankings, he explained.

“We are trying to show that there are universities other than research universities that are performing well based on other indicators,” he said. “Co-publications with industrial partners, especially SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], may not be all that important for Cambridge or Harvard, but it happens to be important for Deusto in Spain,” he said.

This year's data reveals that business studies is the most international discipline, attracting globally mobile students and staff to move around the world, which has “deep implications for international competition between universities in this field”, U-Multirank said.

Van Vught said: "U-Multirank makes clear that universities' roles as global centres of excellence stems from their diversity. A successful higher education sector is made up of many types of universities, not only large research-intensive ones, but also small universities, medical schools, universities of applied sciences and others."

The fourth annual edition of U-Multirank is the largest since its launch in 2014, almost doubling the number of institutions and increasing the coverage of countries from 70 to 99, with 3,284 faculties and 10,526 study programmes.

This year, U-Multirank has made it easier for contributing universities to take part, based on robust national data, resulting in more than 44,000 performance scores at an institutional level alone and another 65,000 at the subject level, making it “the world's largest global university comparison site”, according to U-Multirank.

Data distortions

As with any ranking, the use of particular indicators throws up distortions. For instance, when using the indicator ‘absolute numbers of publications’ the large scoring universities are United States and United Kingdom institutions that produce high numbers of publications that smaller institutions (in Europe and Australia, for instance) hardly ever reach.

Thus Hanken School of Economics (Finland) does better than the University of Oxford (UK) on citation impact but poorly on numbers of citations and never shows up on international rankings because it is small, Van Vught said.

Against this, hardly any US universities score well on international orientation, but this may simply because the US is a big country, so it is natural for US researchers to seek to collaborate with other US scholars. Fins, by contrast can more easily go and work with students in other countries nearby, Van Vught explained.

U-Multirank is a European Commission initiative and is funded by the European Union's Erasmus+ Programme.