Global University Rankings
According to the EAU,Â one of theirÂ major motivations in commissioning the report was that their member universitiesÂ are “often under pressure to appear in the rankings, or to improve their position in one way or another.”
Some of theÂ report’s findings include the following:
-Shanghai Jiao Tong University published the first “global university ranking” in 2003.Â Just eight years later, there are now more thanÂ a dozen such rankings.Â
-International rankings typically include between 200 and 500 universities,Â meaning that they only cover between 1% and 3% of the world’s 17,000Â universities.Â
-Most of the rankings “focus predominantly” on research, as opposed to teaching. Likewise, “the importance of links to external stakeholders and environments” isÂ “largely ignored.”
-“Bibliometric indicators” are often used as a gauge for measuring research outcomes. The report argues that this advantages the natural sciences and medicine and disadvantages social sciences and humanities. Likewise, these indicators tend to disadvantage the publication of books and anthologies.
-The report finds that the indicators advantage English-language universities, as “non-English language work is both published and cited less.”
-The rankings disadvantage universities with specialized mandates, such as those that serve a specific region or that strive to be accessible to older students.
-The report finds that, “[i]n an attempt to improve their positions in the rankings, universities are strongly tempted to improve their performance specifically in those areas which are measured by ranking indicators.”
-Sometimes universities manipulate data in order to improve their standing (e.g. by merging with other universities and by manipulating student-staff ratios).
I’m not opposed to universities being held accountable to outside bodies. Nor am I opposed to the use ofÂ measured outcomes. But given that higher education is about so much more than research, wouldn’t it by wise to arrive at the methodology through a consultative process that includes student federations, labour groups andÂ faculty associations?Â And wouldn’t it be good if outcomes included teaching quality, knowledge translation, community engagement and accessibility to vulnerable groups?
I would like to see one of Ontario’s political parties adopt just such a proposal in their platform for this October’s provincial election campaign.Â The party in questionÂ could propose toÂ spearhead a processÂ that would aim to hold allÂ Ontario universitiesÂ accountable on outcomes thatÂ are agreed upon with key stakeholders, including the Canadian Federation of Students, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Council of Ontario Universities.
Ontario should set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant with a PhD in Public Policy. He has academic affiliation at both Carleton University and Case Western Reserve University, and is Section Editor of the Canadian Review of Social Policy/Revue canadienne de politique sociale. You can check out his website here: https://nickfalvo.ca/.