Thursday, 16 September 2010

Bullshit from many angles

Some facts about the THES universities rankings story, in case anyone in the UK was wondering.
  1. Five out of the top fifty universities is a pretty good score, given that we have about 5% of total OECD population.
  2. If your universities slide in a single year, this is unlikely to be due to a sudden collapse in quality. It is more likely because the ranking method has changed, which is just what happened in this case.
  3. It seems exaggerated to call the THES rankings "the major global benchmark of worldwide university performance", as the THES editor does.There are several different rankings out there. The most respected, I would say, is the Academic Ranking of World Universities published by Shanghai Jiao Tong university. In the 2010 version, the UK gets five out of the top fifty spots... and the same number in 2009... and in 2008.
  4. Previous THES rankings seemed crazily pro-UK to me. Four out of the top ten universities in the world? Seventeen in the top 100, with the University of Manchester beating UCLA, and Bristol beating Northwestern and Berkeley? I don't find that plausible.
Summary: this non-story should be headlined CHANGE IN METHODOLOGY CAUSES RANDOM DRIFT IN PROXY FOR DIFFICULT-TO-MEASURE VARIABLE. For useful information about university rankings, see Wikipedia.