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A new global university ranking with an ethical mission

This article is promoted by Globethics.net.

League tables have become part of the fabric of assessing the performance of institutions in various industries (eg, schools, hospitals, etc). Universities are no exception in this global demand for insight into the performance of public and private sector services.

University league tables can play an important role in influencing higher education policy and provide prospective students, parents and industry with the opportunity to gain insights into how universities are enriching the student learning experience.

In addition, league tables offer universities the opportunity to be benchmarked against their peers and, for those fortunate to be in the top 100, a marketing opportunity to promote and raise the brand identity of the higher education institution.

While the intention of league tables is noble, the reality is that the adopted metrics are most likely to favour a minority which dominates the ranking table.

For instance, reviewing the universities and nations that dominate the top 100 of the leading global university ranking systems (Times Higher Education, QS, ARWU) shows the dominance of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Research-rich universities

In particular, premier (Ivy League/Russell Group) universities tend to have substantial endowments that enable them to invest in resources that create a conducive environment for research, which is one of the key metrics adopted by many university ranking tables to assess and rank universities.

However, these research metrics are based on English-language publications and specific scientific journals that favour the West. Thus, it is no surprise to see universities with large research budgets, predominantly from the West, annually appear in the top 100.

A ranking table based on research has its merits for universities that receive large research donations to facilitate scientific research. But what about the other 20,000+ global universities that do not have access to the same financial resources and operate in countries where English is not the primary language?

Research is one function of a university. However, consideration also needs to be given to excellence in teaching, inspiring entrepreneurship and creating a culture committed to sustainability and integrity. These are vital roles for any university that aspires to develop a cohort of graduates ready to address the challenges facing society, industry and the environment.

The metrics adopted by current global ranking providers create unrealistic hurdles for the vast majority of universities to overcome in order to contemplate a position in the top 100.

For example, as highlighted by Professor William Locke (from the University of Melbourne), key Australian universities have been known to use their financial revenue from international students to recruit global academics with high citation numbers in order to boost the position of their institution in rankings.

National university ranking tables are also subject to manipulation.

In UK rankings such as the Complete University Guide and The Guardian University Guide, institutions are rated, inter alia, on the basis of the numbers of students who graduated with a good honours degree. However, a report from the BBC on 12 May highlights the fact that the number of students graduating with a first-class honours has more than doubled in a decade.

It could be argued that awarding a student a higher grade is a low-cost approach to raising the ranking position. And in the face of so many top performers, employers now need to develop a new set of metrics to distinguish student performance from skills.

Even a slight alteration in the weighting of the metrics used to rank a university would dramatically impact the ranking of universities in the mid to lower positions. Therefore, we need to be sensitive to the impact of the weighting of the metrics adopted in university ranking tables.

Student survey

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Globethics.net is an international organisation which has established a global network to promote ethical practices in higher education and support students, teachers and institutions in understanding and applying ethics at an institutional, faculty and an individual level. Globethics.net offers several training programmes in partnership with higher education institutions worldwide.

Globethics.net is endeavouring to develop a ranking system more considerate of ethical criteria. These measures will reflect the critical role higher education institutions play in educating leaders according to values for building just, peaceful, sustainable and inclusive societies.

To determine what metrics would be of real value to students, at the start of the year Globethics.net surveyed 600 UK students about what they wanted from league tables.

The results show that almost 30% of students surveyed were not aware of the league tables or the ranking of their selected university before they applied, and more than 60% of students currently attending university remain unaware of their university's current ranking.

This begs the question: what role are university league tables providing to students?

When Globethics.net asked students what top five metrics they would like to see in rankings, the list was as follows: assessment guidance, employment prospects, quality of feedback, pedagogical engagement and institutional focus on integrity.

Far down on the priority list for students was research quality and citations per academic.

While the UK and some international ranking tables capture some of the key metrics that matter to students, they do not encapsulate the full student experience. Nor do they indicate the level of transformation at the university to ensure an enriched learning environment grounded in integrity and sustainability.

Globethics.net has developed two proprietary survey tools that capture empirical data on a spectrum of student and tutor experiences, enabling Globethics.net to evaluate the complete experience of both parties.

These instruments have been tested at several universities, and the results have revealed new insights into what students and tutors value from their institutions.

The new metrics can be a catalyst for positive transformation in higher education, ensuring that universities meet their primary objective and create an environment that inspires and supports both students and tutors in developing novel solutions to global challenges.

Globethics.net is using these tools to develop a new ranking that challenges commonly held views of how higher education enriches learning experiences and encourages universities to reflect on how values, ethics, and sustainability can transform the learning and working environment for students and staff.

If you would like to take part – participation is free. All that is required is to complete two questionnaires, available in English, French and Spanish, which take approximately 8 to 10 minutes to complete – please email: universityranking@globethics.net.

Dr Aftab Dean is the director of Globethics.net University Ranking. He has worked in higher education for the past two decades and has been commissioned to evaluate, analyse the responses and develop Student Evaluation Instruments.

This article is promoted by Globethics.net.