• A
  • A
  • U-Multirank wastes EU funding

    - The British House of Lords bashed the U-Multirank initiative of the European Commission. It would only “confuse applicants”. The money should be better spent on other EU priorities. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is generally disappointed by Western rankings.

    The influential European Union Committee of the British House of Lords (upper house of Parliament) created the report "The Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe" in which the U-Multirank project was criticized heavily. EU money should be better spent on other priorities given that the Times Higher Education and Shanghai rankings already did a good job in providing "transparency and flexibility for students to make an informed choice". News that Times Higher Education was quick to catch up on.

    The House of Lords raised concerns that the "league tables market was already too crowded, with each ranking deploying its own methodologies; that it would confuse applicants and be incapable of responding to rapidly changing circumstances in institutional profiles; that it could become a 'blunt instrument' which would 'not allow different strengths across diverse institutions to be recognised and utilised' and end up being used as the basis for future funding decisions; on the grounds of quality, accuracy and lack of data; and that EU funds could be better spent on other EU priorities."

    Concerns over U-Multirank becoming official reference

    Given the doubts the House of Lords has regarding the added value of U-Multirank, the report also urged the Commission to not declare this new instrument as the official reference for European universities: "The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) acknowledged the Commission's efforts to overcome some of the limitations of traditional league tables and to render it more objective but advised 'caution in providing any form of official sanction to any one form of ranking tool given that universal ranking systems have a history of lacking real comparability and robustness'."

    Instead, the House members pointed towards the merits of existing rankings. The Times Higher Education Ranking was mentioned in this context as a role model given that it recently revised its methodology. "While Times Higher Education considered that rankings were "relatively crude"  and could never be properly objective, they nevertheless considered that if used appropriately they could still provide a useful role in providing information."

    Putin disappointed by Western rankings

    Especially with the last assessment Russia's current Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin would disagree. "You must know that certain experts think that these Western ratings are, in fact, an instrument for raising the competitiveness [of their graduates] on the labor market," he remarked.

    This came as a reaction to the recent outrage by Russian media that none of the country's universities are ranked in THE's top 100. Now, Putin instructed the Russian Education Oversight Agency to create an alternative ranking.

    Complete report on U-Multirank

    50.Current rankings-including the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Shanghai Jiaotong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities-mainly focus on research-intensive universities and only include a small proportion of European universities. The Commission therefore believes that a wider range of indicators and information should be made available to increase transparency and allow more informed choices to be made, as well as supporting policy-makers' higher education reforms. In response, the Commission intends to  launch U-Multirank in 2013, which will allow users to profile universities using a number of performance indicators rather than just research output.

    51.Most of our witnesses were not convinced by the merits of yet another league table, with the British Council description of rankings as both a "blessing and a curse"  capturing this dichotomy well. The Russell Group told us that "ranking universities is fraught with difficulties and we have many concerns about the accuracy of any ranking. It is very difficult to capture fully inumerical terms the performance of universities and their contribution to knowledge, to the world economy and to society. Making meaningful comparisons of universities both within, and across, national borders is a tough and complex challenge, not least because of issues relating to the robustness and comparability of data". The EUA were critical of existing ranking systems as favouring  very large research intensive institutions and while they praised the proposal's attempt to move away from research outputs to look at other indicators, they considered that this would be hard to achieve in practice, particularly due to the lack of data in some universities and Member States and the difficulties in collecting data more generally, including the additional burdens that this may place on universities.

    52.Many of our other witnesses raised a series of concerns: about the proposal's lack of clarity as to whether it would be a ranking or transparency tool; that the league tables market was already too crowded, with each ranking deploying its own methodologies; that it would confuse applicants and be incapable of responding to rapidly changing circumstances in institutional profiles; that it could become a "blunt instrument" which would "not allow different strengths across diverse institutions to be recognised and utilised" and end up being used as the basis for future funding decisions; on the grounds of quality, accuracy and lack of data; and that EU funds could be better spent on other EU priorities.

    53.Notwithstanding these concerns, if the Commission's stated intention of increasing transparency and providing more flexibility for students to make an informed choice based on different criteria proved to be possible, then many of our witnesses were prepared to support its introduction as potentially adding value. The UK Bologna Experts were of the same view but considered that U-Multirank's success was  "highly dependent on the extent of institutional engagement, coverage, and accuracy of data used to compile the rankings"  and that it was  "vital that the instrument recognises the diverse character of European HEIs in so far as direct comparisons can be iniquitous and misleading".

    54.The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) acknowledged the Commission's efforts to overcome some of the limitations of traditional league tables and to render it more objective but advised "caution in providing any form of official sanction to any one form of ranking tool given that universal ranking systems have a history of lacking real comparability and robustness". The NUS also welcomed the Commission's efforts but still had doubts about how it would work in practice, believing instead that improving the public information made available to students could be achieved by alternative means  "without the need to introduce (yet another) potentially subjective and confusing rankings system". The Government considered that  "it might be useful"  if it genuinely provided a transparent source of information for students wanting to study abroad but were not convinced that it would add value if it simply resulted in an additional European ranking system alongside the existing international ranking systems. However, the Minister struck a less positive tone when he told us that it could be viewed as  "an attempt by the EU Commission to fix a set of rankings in which [European universities] do better than [they] appear to do in the conventional rankings".

    55.We were interested to note that THES have recently revised their global rankings in 2010 in order to apply a different methodology and include a wider range of performance indicators (up from 6 to 13). They told us that their approach seeks to achieve more objectivity by capturing the full range of a global university's activities-research, teaching, knowledge transfer and internationalisation-and allows users to rank institutions (including 178 in Europe) against five separate criteria: teaching (the  learning environment rather than quality); international outlook (staff, students and research); industry income (innovation); research (volume income and reputation); and citations (research influence). In order to inform the revision of their rankings, their data supplier, Thomson Reuters, conducted a global survey which found that many users distrusted the methodology of the existing world rankings. While THES considered that rankings were  "relatively crude"  and could never be properly objective, they nevertheless considered that if used appropriately they could still provide a useful role in providing information.

    56.We also believe that the provision of clear information and guidance to students is important in order to assist them in making an informed choice of university. However, we  also  appreciate how difficult it can be to evaluate a wider range of university performance indicators in an objective manner, noting the limitations inherent in many of the existing ranking systems.

    57.Therefore, it is important that the Commission is clear about the purpose of U-Multirank, what information will be provided and what methodology will be used. If the perceived deficiencies in most other ranking systems are overcome in relation to this proposal then we could be convinced of the benefits of its introduction. However, until these deficiencies can be overcome, we consider that the Commission should prioritise other activities. In the meantime, rankings such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings may have a valuable contribution to make.


    Gerelateerd nieuws:
    11 september  On the agenda - Week 36, 2014
    10 september  Juncker instructs his team
    5 september  Political animal for EU-education
    4 september  Spain conquers EU-R&D
    20 augustus  Cabbage over knowledge
    6 augustus  Rosetta finally arrived