In German-speaking countries, the Centre for University Development (CHE) has published rankings of undergraduate programmes for years. Among experts, there is a broad consensus that the methodology CHE uses for these rankings is much better than of other rankings such as the Shanghai Jiao Tong Ranking and the ranking of THES. For CHE does not rank institutions, but subjects, taught in departments. Within Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the authority of these rankings is undisputed, and students use them massively.
As CHE developed plans for excellence rankings on the graduate level, the centre realized that the market for master students is European and international, rather than national. Therefore, CHE decided to make a ranking of excellent graduate schools in Europe – starting with mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry.
Only those universities were considered that are eligible for the Erasmus program. In Europe, there are more than 4500 of them. It turned out that 66 of those universities had enough research output in the concerning subject to be ranked.
At a seminar in Zürich, 11 of those excellent universities met to critically discuss the first excellence rankings. They provided CHE with valuable feedback on how to improve the methodology, presentation and usefulness of the excellence rankings. Excellence rankings are especially valued by universities of whom many people do not know that their science teaching and research on the graduate level is on a par with that of Cambridge, ETH or Imperial College. For the university of Firenze, this is true of physics. The University of Birmingham offers excellent graduate programs in biology and physics. Utrecht University even offers excellent teaching and research in all four science subjects.
Excellence rankings serve various goals. They can be used for marketing purposes, but also as input for institutional debates on quality improvement. From September 2008, ScienceGuide is offering an online platform for discussions on the use of excellence rankings in the context of quality assurance and reputation management. Lively features on excellent graduate programs all over Europe will be added, together with in-depth interviews with key players in higher education and the latest development.
Meanwhile, the development of excellence rankings goes on. CHE is already working on the next round of excellence rankings – in political science, economics and psychology .
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