UK, Ireland top U-Multirank on teaching and learning

The fifth edition of U-Multirank provides new insight into the relative strengths and weaknesses of different higher education systems around Europe and the United States of America, with the United Kingdom and Ireland performing the strongest for teaching and learning as a result of their good ‘on-time’ student completion rates.

U-Multirank claims to be the world’s largest global university ranking, with a total of more than 1,600 universities from 95 countries compared for their strengths and weaknesses using indicators in five dimensions – Teaching and Learning; Research; Knowledge Transfer; International Orientation; and Regional Engagement. It grades these on the basis of ‘A’ for ‘very good’ to ‘E’ for ‘poor’.

The UK as a whole scored 73% of A (very good) and B (good) rankings in the teaching and learning dimension of this year’s U-Multirank. Ireland came a close second – scoring 72.5% of top grades for graduation and on-time completion rates for both bachelor and masters degree programmes.

New national rankings

The national rankings are a new feature this year and show the relative performance of national higher education systems in 18 countries.

The United States had the top score in the research dimension, with an overall score of 75.6% for A and B grades. Rockefeller University in the US performed the strongest for citation rate followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But the United States had one of the weakest scores for international performance, achieving just 30.4% of A and B grades in this dimension of the rankings – which looked at foreign language teaching provision, student mobility, international academic staff, international doctoral degrees and international joint publications.

Smaller countries perform strongly

U-Multirank co-leader Dr Frank Ziegele from the Centre for Higher Education in Germany said: “The new national rankings show small European countries performing very well in some areas, especially for international orientation, with Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Norway all out-performing the United States and Germany in the international dimension of the rankings.”

Germany performed poorly for teaching and learning, with just 24.4% of A and B scores, due, in part, to non-completion rates and students taking longer to graduate. Germany’s best performances were for research – at 56%; international orientation at 50.6% and knowledge transfer at 49.6%.

France did well for teaching and learning with a score of 70.8% and gained 72.5% in the international dimension of U-Multirank.

Finland, often seen as a leader in higher education, had a surprisingly low score for ‘on time completion rates’ in teaching and learning – at just 26.7%. But it did better for research – at 59.4% and achieved 71.4% for international orientation.

Belgium was the top scorer for research among the 18 higher education systems probed by U-Multirank, gaining 82.9%, but sunk to 26.3% for teaching and learning. However, some of its individual universities performed strongly in teaching and learning at the subject level, including the University of Namur, which achieved great results for mathematics, and the Catholic University of Louvain, or UCL, which performed well in both biology and chemistry.

Switzerland performed strongly across many of the indicators, gaining 69% for research and 71.7% for internationalisation.

This year’s edition of the rankings is the first since a new governance and funding model was introduced in which financial support for U-Multirank is shared between the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme and the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany and Spanish Santander Group.

Looking beyond traditional indicators

Ziegele told University World News: “What is unique about U-Multirank is that we look beyond the traditional indicators which most university rankings rely on, such as reputation among other academics and research strength. This allows users to create their own personal rankings for the particular strengths they are looking for, which might be student mobility or the percentage of international academic staff at the university.

“It also enables credit to be given for areas overlooked by traditional rankers, such as regional engagement. Spain’s universities, for example, are very good at engaging with and supporting their local regions. Spain gained 63.7% in A and B scores in the regional engagement dimension of our rankings, which also saw higher education in Ireland, Italy and Poland providing good support to their regions.

“In comparison, the United Kingdom only scored 14.1% for regional engagement by its universities.”

Top universities for different things

Ziegele says: “Our approach means there are no overall winners in U-Multirank, just the top universities for different things which we highlight as the ‘Top 25’ universities in the different dimensions.”

This year’s U-Multirank shows the diversity in higher education excellence with 225 universities getting the highest ‘A’ scores. The US had 18% of its universities ranked with at least one ‘A’ score. The UK had 13%, followed by France and Germany with 8% and Chinese Taipei and Spain with 4%.

As a whole, Europe performs best in the global ‘Top 25’ lists, achieving 56% of the overall top scores, followed by Asia with 21.7% and the US and Canada with 18.6%.

Europe was the clear winner for student mobility where its universities took 24 of the top 25 spots and had 19 of the top 25 positions for interdisciplinary research publications. Asia performed best for international joint publications and patents – achieving 10 and nine of the top 25 positions respectively. The US was strongest for top-cited and research publications with 15 and 13 of the top 25 positions respectively.

Ziegele said that to improve their coverage of universities, more and more of the data used to create U-Multirank is obtained from publicly available information, such as that provided by HESA (the UK’s higher education statistics agency). But there were still some gaps at the subject level where universities declined to provide the data.

Despite the reluctance of U-Multirank to declare overall winners, some universities stand out for their outstanding performance in more than one dimension, said Ziegele

Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne is one of 13 universities in Switzerland included in the ranking. It is a specialised institution characterised by a high percentage of international students and performs well across various U-Multirank indicators, with 17 ‘A’ (very good) scores.

Maastricht University is one of 53 universities included in U-Multirank for the Netherlands and has a high percentage of international students. Its overall profile shows top performance across various indicators, with 16 ‘A’ scores.

Technical University of Denmark is one of eight universities from Denmark included in U-Multirank and another top performer in U-Multirank with 16 ‘A’ scores across the dimensions.

Newcastle University is one of 156 universities included in U-Multirank for the United Kingdom, and, like the others highlighted by Ziegele, has a high percentage of international students. It gained 16 ‘A’ scores.

Ziegele said this year’s rankings, published on 5 June, are the biggest ever, but he is still working with the Chinese government to expand U-Multirank’s coverage of Chinese universities, as the data they require is not publicly available. They also plan a greater focus on Latin America in future editions of U-Multirank.

U-Multirank was developed by an independent consortium for the European Commission by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) in Germany, the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) from Leiden University, both in the Netherlands, as well as Fundación Conocimiento y Desarrollo (FCYD) in Spain. The consortium is headed by professors Dr Frans van Vught of CHEPS and Dr Frank Ziegele of CHE.

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist and PR consultant who runs De la Cour Communications and blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website. He provides English-language communication support for Norwegian, Czech and UK universities.