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University ranks and rankings

Feb 15,2018 - Last updated at Feb 15,2018

I am not on top of this subject; I only know a handful of academic ranking systems: QS (World University Ranking); Times Higher Education; Academic Ranking of World Universities; the CWTS Leiden and the Webometrics.

Some of these consider rudiments of academic excellence, faculty Nobel Prize winners and the frequency of faculty publishing in top-notch journals, from a rather narrow standpoint. Others consider student numbers, variety of faculty and students, and are influenced by an opinion poll of faculty and researchers worldwide, focusing on their research concentrations.  The Leiden, for instance, focuses on science and the impact of scientific publications from 500 diverse universities, while Webometrics on the total of links that a university homepage contains from other institutions and organisations.

There is no ideal, dependable, and “authoritative” way to get universities ranked objectively, because each university has its own strengths and weaknesses, thus creating immeasurable difficulties to make fair comparisons. For that reason, how can a small, yet to emerge, third-world, university move up on the list of international recognition?

By understanding the tactics of ranking, all universities, big and small alike, can advance their practices in a way that will make them more capable of positively affecting their standing.  For example, old universities that comprise well-established schools have an advantage in some rankings.  Being “old” helps because of the magnitude of “repute” in the opinion polls and the large number of publications that create research impact and recognition.

Based on their web presence, the global ranking of universities roughly covers 26,000 higher education institutions worldwide. However, this does not include every university in the world. There are probably hundreds of universities and colleges in the globe that are not indexed! Countless high-quality universities will not show up in these rankings.  Though they have good reputations, they are principally (teaching, not research) undergrad institutions and their research output is significantly low. Albeit, though universities do their utmost to upgrade their status in the rankings, others have no other choice but to move down.

Repute and rank are not identical.  I can always discern between universities that have strong reputation in a given field of specialisation and the level of a certain programme or course of study.  The general rank of a university does not always disclose this type of information, nor does it show how many front-line researchers actually teach.

For students, a few things are important such as entry requirements, level of education, and professional networks following graduation.  However, the question remains: Which comes first here, individual ability or a degree from a “ranked” university. In other words, students who had the academic training necessary to join an unexceptional university will be as successful following graduation, despite the fact that they went to an ordinary institution, for talent is always the key to success.

Is it accurate to liken universities in Jordan, in Yemen, in England, in France and in the US, culturally, environmentally, economically and socially, for example? And do students (and researchers) from all these countries look for the same characteristics in universities? What qualities do they look for when selecting a university?

In the end, what does university-ranking rank, but a sequential cluster of incongruous much-ado-about-nothing rubrics? The steps are slippery and we have made the ascent!

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Comments

In a time when youth unemployment across the region--not just in Jordan--is at high levels and the private sector is having difficulty growing jobs, it's critical that Jordan's 1.65 million youth (15-24 yr. olds) get an education that makes them competitive with their counterparts in other parts of the world. This means educational institutions in Jordan must pursue international accreditations (such as AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA for Business schools; and ABET for programme accreditations in Engineering and Technical training). Jordan has done well with establishing a number of programmes that are now ABET-accredited. However, the country has not even one AACSB/EQUIS/AMBA-accreditation. Yet both Cairo and Beirut have Business schools with all three accreditations. It's time to focus on preparing Jordan's youth for an internationally competitive future.

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