Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What good is reputation?

There is an excellent analysis by Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates of the reputation indicators in the THE and QS world rankings.

Main points include:

  • THE and QS are both insufficiently transparent about their reputation surveys and it is very difficult to judge their reliability. 

  • The numbers responding to the THE survey are very small outside the top 50 and this could cause substantial changes in total scores because of a small increase or decease in the number of votes.

  • The lack of transparency is influenced by commercial motives.
THE has been dropping twitter hints about interesting changes in the forthcoming rankings. Are these due to swings in the votes on the surveys?

 Or could it be the Large Hadron Collider Citation Amplifier?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ranking Status Wars

It looks like Times Higher Education is pulling ahead of QS in the ranking status war.

From Asahi Shimbun in Japan:

"Only the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University made the top 100 of the World University Rankings released in October last year, placing 23rd and 52nd respectively. The rankings are decided by British educational journal Times Higher Education."

Meanwhile, a Norwegian study of rankings (analysis here, original report here) examines only the Shanghai ARWU, the Leiden Rankings and the THE World University Rankings.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How the Universities of Huddersfield, East London, Plymouth, Salford, Central Lancashire et cetera helped Cambridge overtake Harvard in the QS rankings

It is a cause of pride for the great and the good of British higher education that the country's universities  do brilliantly in certain global rankings. Sometimes though, there is puzzlement about how UK universities can do so well even though the  performance of the national economy  and the level of adult cognitive skills are so mediocre.

In the latest QS World University Rankings Cambridge and Imperial College London pulled off a spectacular feat when they moved ahead of Harvard into joint second place behind MIT, an achievement at first glance as remarkable as Leicester City beating Manchester United. Is this a tribute to the outstanding quality of teaching, inspired leadership or cutting edge research, or perhaps something else?

Neither Cambridge nor Imperial does very well in the research based rankings. Cambridge is 18th and Imperial 26th among higher education institutions in the latest Scimago rankings for output and 32nd and 33rd for normalised impact (citations per paper adjusted for field). Harvard is 1st and 4th for these indicators. In the CWTS Leiden Ranking, Cambridge is 22nd and Imperial 32nd for the mean normalised citation score, sometimes regarded as the flagship of these rankings, while Harvard is 6th.

It is true that Cambridge does much better on the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities with fifth place overall, but that is in large measure due to an excellent score, 96.6, for alumni winning Nobel and Fields awards, some dating back several decades. For Highly Cited Researchers and publications in Nature and Science its performance is not nearly so good.

Looking at the THE World University Rankings, which make some attempt to measure factors other than research, Cambridge and Imperial come in 7th and 10th overall, which is much better than they do in the Leiden and Scimago rankings. However, it is very likely that the postgraduate teaching and research surveys made a significant contribution to this performance. Cambridge is 4th in the THE reputation rankings based on last year's data and Imperial is 13th.

Reputation is also a key to the success of Cambridge and Imperial in the QS world rankings. Take a look at the scores and positions of Harvard, Cambridge and Imperial in the rankings just released.

Harvard  gets 100 points (2nd place) for the academic survey, employer survey (3rd), and citations per faculty (3rd). It has 99.7 for faculty student ratio (29th), 98.1 for international faculty (53rd), and 83.8 for international students (117th). Harvard's big weakness is its relatively small percentage of international students.

Cambridge is in first place for the academic survey and 2nd in the employer survey, in both cases with a score of 100 and one place ahead of Harvard. The first secret of Cambridge's success is that it does much better on reputational measures than for bibliometric or other objective data. It was 18th for faculty student ratio, 73rd for international faculty, 50th for international students and 40th for citations per faculty.

So, Cambridge is ahead for faculty student ratio and international students and Harvard is ahead for international faculty and citations per faculty. Both get 100 for the two surveys.

Similarly, Imperial has 99.9 points for the academic survey (14th), 100 for the employer survey (7th), 99.8 for faculty student ratio (26th), 100 for international faculty (41st), 99.7 (20th) for international students and 96.2 (49th) for citations per faculty. It is behind Harvard for citations per faculty but just enough ahead for international students to squeeze past into joint second place.

The second secret is that QS's standardisation procedure combined with an expanding database means that the scores of the leading universities in the rankings are getting more and more squashed together at the top. QS turns its raw data into Z scores so that universities are measured according to their distance in standard deviations from the mean for all ranked universities. If the number of sub-elite universities in the rankings increases then the overall means for the indicators will fall and the scores of universities at the top end will rise as their distance in standard deviations from the mean increases.

Universities with scores of 98 and 99 will now start getting scores of 100. Universities with recorded scores of 100 will go on getting 100, although they might go up up a few invisible decimal points

In 2008, QS ranked 617 universities. In that year, nine universities had a score of 100 for the academic survey, four for the employer survey, nine for faculty student ratio, six for international faculty, six for international students and seven for citations per faculty.

By 2014 QS was ranking over 830 universities (I assume that those at the end of the rankings marked "NA" are there because they got votes in the surveys but are not ranked because they fail to meet the criteria for inclusion). For each indicator the number of universities getting a score of 100 increased. In 2014 there were 13 universities with a score of 100 for the academic survey, 14 for the employer survey, 16 for faculty student ratio, 41 for international faculty, 15 for international students and 10 for citations per faculty,

In 2008 Harvard got the same score as Cambridge for the academic and employer surveys. It was 0.3 (0.06 weighted) behind for faculty student ratio, 0.6 (0.53 weighted) behind for international faculty, and 14.1 (0.705 weighted) behind for international students, It was, however, 11.5 points. (2.3 weighted) ahead for citations per faculty. Harvard was therefore first and Cambridge third.

By 2014 Cambridge had fallen slightly behind Harvard for international faculty. It was slightly ahead for faculty student ratio. Scores for the survey remained the same, 100 for both places. Harvard reduced the gap for international students slightly.

What made the difference in 2014 and put Cambridge ahead of Harvard was that in 2008 Harvard  in fifth place for citations and with a score 100 was 11.5 (2.3 weighted) points ahead of Cambridge. In 2014 Cambridge had improved a bit for this indicator -- it was 40th instead of 49th -- but now got 97.9 points reducing the difference with Harvard to 2.1 points (0.42 weighted). That was just enough to let Cambridge overtake Harvard.

Cambridge's rise between 2008 and 2014 was thus largely due to the increasing number of ranked universities which led to lower means for  each indicator which led to higher Z scores at the top of each indicator and so reduced the effect of Cambridge's comparatively lower citations per faculty score.

The same thing happened to Imperial . It did a bit better for citations, rising from 58th to 49th place and this brought it a rise in points from 83.10 to 96.20 again allowing it to creep past Harvard.

Cambridge and Harvard should be grateful to those universities filling up the 701+ category at the bottom of the QS rankings. They are the invisible trampoline that propelled "Impbridge" into second place, just behind MIT.

QS should think carefully about adding more universities to their rankings. Another couple of hundred and there will be a dozen universities at the top getting 100 for everything.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Using Ig Nobel awards for ranking countries

Since 1991 Improbable Research has awarded prizes for research that makes people laugh and then think. Highlights this year include dung beetles navigating by starlight, the reaction of reindeer to humans disguised as polar bears and the ethical inferiority of people who can't get up in the morning.

The Ig® Nobel Interactive Database publishes a series of charts, one of which indicates the countries that produce such cutting edge research. Here are the top ten. The funny thing is it looks similar to the top ten of countries with universities in the top 100 in the QS rankings.The big difference is that Japan does better for Ig Nobel prizes than it does in the QS and the other rankings.

Country       % of Ig Nobel awards
1.   USA34.7
2.   UK12.3
3.   Japan9.9
4.   Australia                                            5.5
5.   France                                                       3.7                                   
6.   Netherlands3.5
7.   Canada2.8
8.   Italy2.6
9.   Switzerland2.1
10. China1.4

Country      Number of Universities
in QS top 100
1,   USA28
2.   UK19
3.   Australia8
4.   Netherlands                                              7
5.   Canada5
6.   Switzerland4
7.   Japan4
8=   Germany3
8=  China3
8=  Korea3
8=  Hong Kong3

The Uses of Rankings

It is getting difficult to avoid university rankings. They seem to be everywhere, with advertisements in railway stations in the English Midlands proclaiming that the local university is in the top 100 for something and newspaper articles in Malaysia reporting the latest news from QS.

Even Ron Liddle, the Spectator's curmudgeon in residence, has taken notice of the rankings and used them to mount a half-hearted defence of British culture against a scathing attack by Portuguese academic Jose Magueijo before retreating and conceding that the assault is pretty much on target.

"We might also mention, quietly, that he [Magueijo] has a post at one of the world’s top ten universities and that at least three other British universities are in that top ten, but there is not a Portuguese university in the top 200 (if they have universities)."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

QS World University Rankings 2014


QS (Quacquarelli Symonds)


Global. 701+ universities.

Top Ten

2=Imperial College London
6University College London
8California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Countries with Universities in the Top Hundred

Country      Number of Universities
Netherlands                                              7
Hong Kong3
New Zealand1

Top Ranked in Region

North America 
AfricaUniversity of Cape Town
Imperial College London
Latin AmericaUniversidade de Sao Paulo                                    
AsiaNational University of Singapore                                    
Central and Eastern Europe  Lomonosov Moscow State University                                   
Arab WorldKing Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals                                     
Middle EastHebrew University of Jerusalem                                  

Noise Index

In the top 20, this year's QS world rankings are less volatile than the previous edition but more so than the THE rankings or Shanghai ARWU. The top 20 universities in 2013 rose or fell an average of 1.45 places. The most remarkable change was the rise of Imperial College and Cambridge to second place behind MIT and ahead of Harvard.

RankingAverage Place Change
 of Universities in the top 20 
QS World Rankings 2013-20141.45
QS World Rankings 2012-20131.70
ARWU 2013 -2014 0.65
Webometrics 2013-20144.25
Center for World University Ranking (Jeddah)
THE World Rankings 2012-20131.20

Looking at the top 100 universities, the  QS rankings  are little different from last year. The average university in the top 100 moved up or down 3.94 places compared to 3.97 between 2012 and 2013. These rankings are more reliable than this year's ARWU, which was affected by the new lists of highly cited researchers, and last year's THE rankings.

RankingAverage Place Change
 of Universities in the top 100 
QS World Rankings 2013-143.94
QS World Rankings 2012-20133.97
ARWU 2013 -2014 4.92
Webometrics 2013-201412.08
Center for World University Ranking (Jeddah)
THE World Rankings 2012-20135.36

Methodology (from topuniversities)

1. Academic reputation (40%)

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.
For the 2014/15 edition, the rankings draw on almost 63,700 responses from academics worldwide, collated over three years. Only participants’ most recent responses are used, and they cannot vote for their own institution. Regional weightings are applied to counter any discrepancies in response rates.
The advantage of this indicator is that it gives a more equal weighting to different discipline areas than research citation counts. Whereas citation rates are far higher in subjects like biomedical sciences than they are in English literature, for example, the academic reputation survey weights responses from academics in different fields equally.
It also gives students a sense of the consensus of opinion among those who are by definition experts. Academics may not be well positioned to comment on teaching standards at other institutions, but it is well within their remit to have a view on where the most significant research is currently taking place within their field.

2. Employer reputation (10%)

The employer reputation indicator is also based on a global survey, taking in almost 28,800 responses for the 2014/15 edition. The survey asks employers to identify the universities they perceive as producing the best graduates. This indicator is unique among international university rankings.
The purpose of the employer survey is to give students a better sense of how universities are viewed in the job market. A higher weighting is given to votes for universities that come from outside of their own country, so it’s especially useful in helping prospective students to identify universities with a reputation that extends beyond their national borders. 

3. Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)

This is a simple measure of the number of academic staff employed relative to the number of students enrolled. In the absence of an international standard by which to measure teaching quality, it provides an insight into the universities that are best equipped to provide small class sizes and a good level of individual supervision.

4. Citations per faculty (20%)

This indicator aims to assess universities’ research output. A ‘citation’ means a piece of research being cited (referred to) within another piece of research. Generally, the more often a piece of research is cited by others, the more influential it is. So the more highly cited research papers a university publishes, the stronger its research output is considered.
QS collects this information using Scopus, the world’s largest database of research abstracts and citations. The latest five complete years of data are used, and the total citation count is assessed in relation to the number of academic faculty members at the university, so that larger institutions don’t have an unfair advantage.

5  6. International faculty ratio (5%)  international student ratio (5%)

The last two indicators aim to assess how successful a university has been in attracting students and faculty members from other nations. This is based on the proportion of international students and faculty members in relation to overall numbers. Each of these contributes 5% to the overall ranking results.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a world-class university?

According to Times Higher Education, a world-class university, one that is in the top 200 of the THE World University Rankings:

  • has a lot of money
  • has a lot of money for research
  • has a lot of staff compared to students
  • attracts staff and students from abroad
  • collaborates with international researchers.

All of these data are derived from the Thomson Reuters InCites programme and they are all indicators in THE world rankings.

The article compares the top 200 to the top 400 universities. It seems at the top that money talks loudly, but internationalisation has a limited impact -- 20 percent of staff from abroad in the top 200 compared to 18 percent in the top 400, 43 percent of papers with international collaborators compared to 42 percent.

What isn't there anything about citations and research impact. Wasn't that supposed to the rankings' flagship indicator?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The British Paradox

Times Higher Education, reporting on the latest OECD education report, says,

"The UK is ranked relatively low among the most developed nations for the literacy skills of graduates, with its performance described as “a puzzle” given the elevated reputation of its universities."

It is only a puzzle if you think that reputation is an accurate reflection of reality.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Only Ranking You'll Ever Need

The Onion, which is looking more and more like a dull chronicle of everyday life in the US, has just published its 2014 University rankings. Here are some highlights:

1. Harvard.  "Endowment: Never enough"
2. University of Alabama. "Subway Franchises on Campus:104"
3. Oberlin College. "Most popular student activity: Adding the prefix 'cis' to all nouns."
4. University of Phoenix. "Undergraduates: 150,000 students, 5.8 million bots."
5. United States  Military Academy at West Point."Incoming class: 74 percent of admitted students were the Supreme Allied Commander of their high school class"
6. ITT Technical Institute, Penscola Campus. "Admissions requirement: $25,000"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

America's Best Colleges

The US News & World Report's America's Best Colleges has just been published. There are no surprises at the top. Here are the top ten.

1.  Princeton
2.  Harvard
3.  Yale
4= Columbia
4= Stanford
4= Chicago
7.   MIT
8= Duke
8= University of Pennsylvania
10. Caltech

Analysis at the Washington Post indicates little movement at the top. Outside the elite there are some significant changes.

Liberal arts colleges
St. John's College, Annapolis from 123rd to 56th .
Bennington College from 122nd to 89th.

National universities
Northeastern University from 69th to 42nd.
Texas Christian University from 99th to 46th.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Scottish Independence and the Rankings

What happens if Scotland votes yes for independence?

Forget about Trident, currency union, North Sea oil and how many crosses there will be in the Union Jack.

The really important issue (1) is what happens to Scottish and other British universities in the international university rankings.

English, Welsh and Northern Irish students and staff in Scottish universities will presumably be classified as international. Whether that  happens immediately or over a few years remains to be seen. Also, if most of the Scottish population retains dual nationality, there will be a lot of quibbling over the small print in the instructions Thomson Reuters (TR) and QS send out to universities participating in the rankings. But one way or another there will be a boost for Scottish universities, at least in the short run.

There would be an immediate bonus in the international collaboration indicator in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings.

There would also be a smaller boost for English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities as well since some Scottish students and faculty would presumably sooner or later become international.

Less certain is the effect of independence on the regional modification in the Citations: Research Impact indicator in the THE rankings. If the overall Scottish field-normalised and year-normalised citation rate is less than that of the rest of the United Kingdom then independence and separate counting would bring another bonus for Scottish universities since they would be benchmarked against a lower number. Whether the rate is in fact lower is something that TR will no doubt be keen to tell us.

Nothing would happen right away in the Shanghai rankings unless an independent Scottish government found a new way of counting university staff. That could affect the Productivity per Capita indicator.

Of course, the long term fate of Scottish education and society would depend on the policies adopted by an independent Scottish government. Alex Salmond's "plans" for currency do not inspire very much confidence, but who knows?

(1) I'm being sarcastic.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Problems with Green Rating

More evidence that self-submitted data for university rankings is not a good idea comes from Inside Higher Ed. An article by Ry Rivard reports that many American colleges have been submitting data that is incomplete or inconsistent for an environmental standards rating published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Going on Twitter

As the ranking season gets under way, with America's Best Colleges, the QS world rankings, the THE world rankings and various spin-offs and alternative rankings in the pipeline, I have reactivated my twitter account at Richard Holmes @universities06.

Monday, September 01, 2014

More on Affiliation

Recently, there has been a lot of finger wagging about King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, signing up highly cited researchers as secondary affiliations. The idea behind this was to climb up the ladder of the Shanghai rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities. These rankings include an indicator, based on Thomson Reuters' (TR) lists of highly cited researchers, which until now gave universities credit for those researchers who list them as secondary affiliation.

The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy decided that this year they would  count secondary affiliations in the old but not the new list "at the suggestion of many institutions and researchers including some Highly Cited Researchers".

It is possible that the highly cited researchers mentioned may have upset their primary affiliations who might have noticed that the indicator points accruing to KAU would come out of their own scores. Just counting the primary affiliations in the new list meant that institutions such as Stanford, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Indiana University Bloomington, the University of Sydney and the Indian Institute of Science have lost several points for this indicator.

The highly cited indicator is unique among the well known international rankings because when a researcher changes his or her  affiliation all of his or her papers go with him or her. It does not matter whether a university has employed a researcher for a day or a decade it will still get the same credit in this indicator. Everything depends on what the researcher puts down as his or her affiliation or affiliations.

All of this is just one manifestation of a problem that has been latent in academic publishing for some years, namely the issue of the affiliation that researchers use when submitting papers or articles. There has probably been quite a bit of small scale fiddling going on for years, with researchers with doctorates from selective universities giving those places as affiliations rather than the technical or education colleges where they are teaching or adjuncts picking the most prestigious of the several institutions where they work.

The best known case of creative affiliation  was that of Mohammed El Naschie whose publication career included questionable claims to affiliation with Cambridge, Frankfurt, Surrey and Alexandria Universities (see High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division: Neutral Citation Number: [2012] EWHC 1809 (QB)).

Most of these claims did no one any good or any harm, apart from a little embarrassment. However, the Alexandria affiliation, combined with Thomson Reuters' distinctive method of counting citations and the university's relatively few publications, propelled Alexandria into the worlds top 5 for research impact and top 200 overall in the the 2010 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.

It is possible that a few of the researchers who have signed up for KAU will start showing up in massively cited multi-contributor publications, many of them in physics, that can boost otherwise obscure places into the upper sections of the research impact indicator of the THE rankings.

TR have said that they did not count physics articles with more than 30 authors when they prepared their recent list of highly cited researchers. This could reduce the scores obtained by KAU, Panjab University and some other institutions if TR follow the same procedure in the coming THE world rankings. The issue, however, is not confined to physics.

It is time that journals, databases and ranking organisations began to look carefully at affiliations. At the least, journals should start checking claims and rankers might consider counting only one affiliation per author.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Shanghai Rankings Part 2

The Shanghai Rankings have had a reputation for reliability and consistency. The latest rankings have, however, undermined that reputation a little. There have been two methodological changes of which one, not counting Proceedings Papers in the Nature and Science and Publications indicators, may not be of any significance. The other is the use of a new list of Highly Cited Researchers prepared by Thomson Reuters covering citations between 2002 and 2012. In this year's rankings this was combined with the old list which had not been updated since 2004.

One result of this is that there have been some very dramatic changes in the scores for Highly Cited Researchers this year. University of California Santa Cruz's score has risen from 28.9 to 37.9, Melbourne's from 24 to 29.3 and China University of Science and Technology's from 7.2 to 24.5 while that of the Australian National University has fallen from 32.3 to 24.8 and Virginia Polytechnic Institute's from 22.9 to 11.4.

This has had a noticeable impact on total scores. Santa Cruz has risen from the 101-150 band to 93rd place, Melbourne from 54th to 44th and China University of Science and Technology from the 201 - 300 band to the 150-200 band. The Australian National University has fallen from 66th place to 74th and Indiana University at Bloomington has dropped from 85th place to the 101-150 band.

In the top 20, this year's ARWU is more volatile than the two previous editions but still not as much as any other international ranking. The top 20 universities in 2013 rose or fell an average of 0.65 places.

Ranking Average Place Change
 of Universities in the top 20 
ARWU 2013 -2014    0.65
ARWU 2012-2013 0.25
ARWU 2011 - 2012 0.15
Webometrics 2013-2014 4.25
Center for World University Ranking (Jeddah)
THE World Rankings 2012-2013 1.20
QS World Rankings 2012-2013 1.70

Looking at the top 100 universities, the ARWU is more volatile than last year's QS rankings with the average institution moving up or down 4.92 places.

RankingAverage Place Change
 of Universities in the top 100 
ARWU 2013 -2014   4.92
ARWU 2012-20131.66
ARWU 2011 - 20122.01
Webometrics 2013-201412.08
Center for World University Ranking (Jeddah)
THE World Rankings 2012-20135.36
QS World Rankings 2012-20133.97

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Shanghai Rankings (Academic Ranking of World Universities) 2014 Part 1


Center for World-Class Universities, Shanghai Jiao Tong  University


Global. 500 institutions.


See ARWU site.

In contrast to the other indicators, the Highly Cited Researchers indicator has undergone substantial changes in recent years, partly as a result of changes by data provider Thomson Reuters. Originally, ARWU used the old list of highly cited researchers prepared by Thomson Reuters (TR), which was first published in 2001 and updated in 2004. Since them no names have been added although changes of affiliation submitted by researchers were recorded. 

Until 2011 when a researcher listed more than one institution as his or her affiliation then credit for the highly cited indicator would be equally divided. Following the recruitment of a large number of part time researchers by King Abdulaziz University, ARWU introduced a new policy of asking researchers how their time was divided. When there was no response, secondary affiliations were counted as 16%, which was the average time given by those who responded to the survey.

In 2013 TR announced that they were introducing a new list based on field-normalised citations over the period 2002-2012. However, problems with the preparation of the new list meant that it could not be used in the 2013 rankings. Instead, the Shanghai rankings repeated the 2012 scores.

During 2013, KAU recruited over 100 highly cited researchers who nominated the university as a secondary affiliation. That caused some comment by researchers and analysts. A paper by Lutz Bornmann and Johann Bauer concluded that to " counteract attempts at manipulation, ARWU should only consider primary institutions of highly cited researchers."

It seems that Shanghai has acted on this advice: "It is worth noting that, upon the suggestion of many institutions and researchers including some Highly Cited Researchers, only the primary affiliations of new Highly Cited Researchers are considered in the calculation of an institution’s HiCi score for the new list."

As a result, KAU has risen into the lower reaches of the 150-200 band on the basis of publications, some papers in Nature and Science and a modest number of primary affiliations among highly cited researchers. That is a respectable achievement but one that would have been much greater if the secondary affiliations had been included.

Perhaps Shanghai should also take note of the suggestion in a paper by Lawrence Cram and Domingo Docampo that  " [s]ignificant acrimony accompanies some published comparisons between ARWU and other rankings (Redden, 2013) driven in part by commercial positioning .  Given its status as an academic ranking , it may be prudent for ARWU to consider replacing its HiCi indicator with a measure that is nit sourced from a commercial provider if such a product can be found that satisfies the criteria (objective, open, independent ) used by ARWU."

Top Ten

Place University
1 Harvard
2 Stanford
4 University of California Berkeley
5 Cambridge
6 Princeton
7 California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
8 Columbia
9= Chicago
9= Oxford

Countries With Universities in the Top 100

Country Number of Universities
United States    52
United Kingdom                                           8
Switzerland 5
Germany 4
France 4
Netherlands 4
Australia 4
Canada 4
Japan 3
Sweden 3
Belgium 2
Israel 2
Denmark 2
Norway 1
Finland 1
Russia 1

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Webometrics: Ranking Web of Universities 2nd 2014 Edition

The Webometrics rankings are based on web-derived data. They cover more than 22,000 institutions, far more than conventional rankings, and should always be consulted as a check on the plausibility of the others. They are, however, extremely volatile and that reduces their reliability considerably.

Cybermetrics Lab, CSIC, Madrid


Global. 22,000+ institutions.


From the Webometrics site.

The current composite indicator is now built as follows:
Visibility (50%)
IMPACT. The quality of the contents is evaluated through a "virtual referendum", counting all the external inlinks that the University webdomain receives from third parties. Those links are recognizing the institutioof conventinal prestige, the academic performance, the value of the information, and the usefulness of the services as introduced in the webpages according to the criteria of millions of web editors from all over the world. The link visibility data is collected from the two most important providers of this information:Majestic SEO and ahrefs. Both use their own crawlers, generating different databases that should be used jointly for filling gaps or correcting mistakes. The indicator is the product of square root of the number of backlinks and the number of domainsoriginating those backlinks, so it is not only important the link popularity but even more the link diversity. The maximum of the normalized results is the impact indicator.
Activity (50%)
PRESENCE (1/3). The total number of webpages hosted in the main webdomain (including all the subdomains and directories) of the university as indexed by the largest commercial search engine (Google). It counts every webpage, including all the formats recognized individually by Google, both static and dynamic pages and other rich files. It is not possible to have a strong presence without the contribution of everybody in the organization as the top contenders are already able to publish millions of webpages. Having additional domains or alternative central ones for foreign languages or marketing purposes penalizes in this indicator and it is also very confusing for external users.
OPENNESS (1/3). The global effort to set up institutional research repositories is explicitly recognized in this indicator that takes into account the number of rich files (pdf, doc, docx, ppt) published in dedicated websites according to the academic search engine Google Scholar. Both the total files Both the total records and those with correctly formed file names are considered (for example, the Adobe Acrobat files should end with the suffix .pdf). The objective is to consider recent publications that now are those published between 2008 and 2012 (new period).
EXCELLENCE (1/3). The academic papers published in high impact international journals are playing a very important role in the ranking of Universities. Using simply the total number of papers can be misleading, so we are restricting the indicator to only those excellent publications, i.e. the university scientific output being part of the 10% most cited papers in their respective scientific fields. Although this is a measure of high quality output of research institutions, the data provider Scimago groupsupplied non-zero values for more than 5200 universities (period 2003-2010). In future editions it is intended to match the counting periods between Scholar and Scimago sources.

Top Ten

1.    Harvard University
2.    MIT
3.    Stanford University
4.    Cornell University
5.    University of Michigan
6.    University of California Berkeley
7=   Columbia University
8=   University of Washington
9.    University of Minnesota
10.  University of Pennsylvania

Countries with Universities in the Top Hundred

USA                      66
Canada                  7
UK                          4  
Germany                3
China                      3
Japan                     2
Switzerland            2
Netherlands           1
Australia                1
Italy                         1
South Korea          1
Taiwan                   1 
Belgium                 1
Hong Kong            1
Brazil                      1 
Austria                   1
Czech Republic    1
Singapore             1        
Mexico                   1

Top Ranked in Region

USA:                             Harvard
Canada:                       Toronto
Latin America:             Sao Paulo
Caribbean                    University of the West Indes
Europe:                        Oxford
Africa:                           University of Cape Town
Asia:                             Seoul National University
South Asia                   IIT Bombay
Southeast Asia           National University of Singapore
Middle East:                Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Arab World:                 King Saud University
Oceania                       Melbourne

Noise Index
Average position change of universities in the top 20 in 2013:



Center for World University Rankings         --  0.90
Shanghai Rankings (ARWU): 2011-12      --  0.15
Shanghai Rankings (ARWU) 2012-13       --  0.25
THE WUR:  2012-13                                    --  1.20
QS  WUR    2012-13                                    --  1.70  

Average position change of universities in the top 100 in 2013



Center for World University Rankings               --  10.59 
 Shanghai Rankings (ARWU): 2011-12               --  2.01
 Shanghai Rankings   2012-13                            --  1.66
THE WUR:  2012-13                                            --   5.36
QS  WUR    2012-13                                            --   3.97

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paper on Highly Cited Researchers

Anyone interested in the evolution of global university rankings should take a look at 'Highly Cited researchers and the Shanghai Ranking' by Lawrence Cram of the Australian National University and Domingo Docampo of the University of Vigo, Spain.

  • The paper, which analyses the HiCi indicator, based on Thomson Reuters Highly Cited researchers database, in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), notes that the loss or addition of a single highly cited researcher can have a potentially large impact of the ranking of a university, although this would not apply to the top 100 where universities typically have one or two dozen such researchers.

  • The paper also provides some economic context that might explain why Thomson Reuters has been so adamant about allowing even the most sensible deviation of its Citation indicator from its InCites system.

"While the focus of this paper is not the commercial aspects of citations databases it is important to understand how commercial drivers might shape the availability of such data. In this respect, the most recently available shareholder earnings presentation for Thompson Reuters reveals a corporate strategy that includes resetting the cost base (i.e. reducing business costs), product simplification and attractive returns to shareholders. These business considerations may have a bearing on the commercial development of citation databases."

  • The paper describes the evolution of the Highly Cited Researchers database and some aspects of the new list introduced in 2013. They note that counting by field means that names are repeated and that the number of names in the new list may exceed the number of actual persons.

  • The number of highly cited researchers varies between fields, from 276 in Engineering to 401 in Microbiology.

  • For some universities, the score in the HiCi indicator in ARWU is very significant. For 13 universities -- 9 in the USA and 4 in Saudi Arabia -- it accounts for 30% of the total score.

  • The paper concludes by suggesting that it is time that ARWU considered changing its measurement of citations.

"Significant acrimony accompanies some published comparisons between ARWU and other rankings (Redden, 2013) driven in part by commercial positioning .  Given its status as an academic ranking , it may be prudent for ARWU to consider replacing its HiCi indicator with a measure that is nit sourced from a commercial provider if such a product can be found that satisfies the criteria (objective, open, independent ) used by ARWU."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Perils of Affiliation

Five days ago I noted an open access paper  that analysed the new list of highly cited researchers published by Thomson Reuters (TR) and discussed the disproportionate number of secondary affiliations to a single institution, King Abdulaziz University (KAU) of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The significance of this is that the number of highly cited researchers is an indicator in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, contributing 20% of the total score. If all affiliations given in the list are counted, including secondary affiliations, then KAU will get an extremely high score for this indicator in the forthcoming rankings and will do very well in the overall rankings.

Times Higher Education (THE) has now noticed what is going on. An article by Paul Jump reports on the findings  by Lutz Bornmann of the Max Planck Society  and Johann Bauer of the Max Planck Institute.

The THE article has been republished in Inside Higher Ed and there is more discussion in University World News by Yves Gingras of the University of Quebec.

That THE should publish such an article is a little surprising. The researchers who have listed KAU as a secondary affiliation will probably not stop with the the TR highly cited researchers' list -- if they do it will be a major scandal -- but will also include it in papers published in the highly regarded journals indexed in the Web of Science database. That could include those multi-"authored", hyper-cited publications in fields such as astronomy, genetics and particle physics that have propelled institutions such as Moscow State Engineering Physics Institute and Panjab University to high places in the Citations indicator in the THE World University Rankings.

KAU has already received a  high score for citations in the THE 2013 world rankings, one that is disproportionate to its very modest score for  the Research: Volume, Reputation and Income indicator. It is not impossible that its secondary affiliations in the old highly cited list will start popping up in the"author" list in one or two of those  Multi Author (or contributor?) Publications in this year's rankings as might those on the new lists in the years to come.

If so, one wonders whether it is fair to single out ARWU for criticism. However, TR has announced that  In the new highly cited list  that they  excluded physics papers with more than 30 institutional addresses. 

"The methodology described above was applied to all ESI fields with the exception of Physics. The relative large number of Highly Cited Papers in Physics dealing with high- energy experiments typically carried hundreds of author names. Using the whole counting method produced a list of high-energy physicists only and excluded those working in other subfields. For example, the number of Highly Cited Papers required for inclusion in Physics, using the standard methodology, turned out to be a remarkable 63. So, as an expedient, it was decided to eliminate from consideration any paper with more than 30 institutional addresses. This removed 436 out of 10,373 Highly Cited Papers in physics and the problem of overweighting to high-energy physics. An analysis without these papers produced a list in which the threshold for number of Highly Cited Papers was 14. It also produced a ranking in which the 2010 Nobel Prize winner in Physics Andre Geim of the University of Manchester appeared first, with 40 Highly Cited Papers. Fields of physics other than high-energy alone now appear as represented by the scientists selected."

If TR does that for this year's rankings as well they will save THE some embarrassment, although Panjab University may be wondering why its "excellence" has suddenly disappeared. We shall have to wait and see what happens.

There is an important point about the lists and their role in the rankings that needs to be made. The count of affiliations of KAU to in the arxiv paper is probably too high. The authors count the number of primary affiliations, then the total number of affiliations and also the fractionated total so that if a researcher has three affiliations then each counts as one third of an affiliation. 

However, as indicated in their methodology section , ARWU have surveyed the current highly cited researchers to determine how their affiliations and where there was no response assign secondary affiliations a 16% fraction, which was the percentage given by those who did respond to the survey. This would lead to a total for KAU less than that suggested by the paper although still implausibly high and well above the scores for the other indicators. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The CWUR Rankings

The Center for World University Rankings, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has produced a global ranking of 1,000 universities. Last year and in 2012, 100 universities were ranked. The Center is headed by Nadim Mahassen, an Assistant Professor at King Abdulaziz University.

The rankings include five indicators that measure various aspects of publication and research: Publications in reputable journals, Influence (research papers in highly influential journals), Citations, Broad Impact (h-index) and Patents (h-index).

Altogether these have a weighting of 25%, which seems on the low side for modern world class research universities. The use of the h-index, which reduces the impact of outliers and anomalous cases, is a useful addition to the standard array of indicators. So too is the use of patents filed as a measure of innovation.

Another 25% goes to Quality of Education, which is measured by the number of alumni receiving major international awards relative to size (current number of students according to national agencies). There would appear to be an obvious bias here towards older institutions. There is also a problem that such awards are likely to be concentrated among relatively few universities so that this indicator would  not discriminate among  those outside the world elite.

A quarter is assigned to Quality of Faculty measured by the number of faculty receiving such awards and another quarter to Alumni Employment measured by the number of CEOs of top corporations.

The last three indicators are unlikely to be regarded as satisfactory. The number of CEOs is largely irrelevant to the vast majority of institutions.

In general, these are a useful addition to the current array of global rankings but the non-research indicators are narrow and not very meaningful. There is also a very serious problem with reliability as noted below. 

Now for the standard presentation of rankings, with the addition of a noise analysis. 


Center for World University Rankings, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Global. 1,000 universities.


Quality of Education (25%) measured by alumni winning international awards relative to size.
Alumni Employment  (25%) measured by CEOs of top companies relative to size.
Quality of Faculty (25%) measured by "academics" winning international awards relative to size.
Publications in reputable journals (5%).
Influence measured by publications in highly influential journals (5%).
Citations measured by the number of highly cited papers (5%).
Broad Impact measured by h-index (5%).
Patents measured by the number of international filings (5%)

Top Ten

1.   Harvard
2.   Stanford
3.   MIT
4.   Cambridge
5.   Oxford
6.   Columbia
7.   Berkeley
8.   Chicago
9.   Princeton
10. Yale

Countries with Universities in the Top Hundred

USA               54
Japan              8
UK                   7
Switzerland    4
France            4
Germany        4
Israel              3
Canada         3
China             2
Sweden         2
South Korea  1
Russia            1
Taiwan           1
Singapore     1
Denmark        1
Netherlands     1
Italy                 1
Belgium         1
Australia        1

Top Ranked in Region

USA:                             Harvard
Canada:                       Toronto
Latin America:             Sao Paulo
Europe:                        Cambridge
Africa:                           Witwatersrand
Asia:                             Tokyo
Middle East:                Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Arab World:                 King Saud University

Noise Index
Average position change of universities in the top 20 in 2013:



Shanghai Rankings (ARWU): 2011-12  --  0.15; 2012-13 --  0.25
THE WUR:  2012-13  --   1.2
QS  WUR    2012-13  --   1.7

Average position change of universities in the top 100 in 2013



Shanghai Rankings (ARWU): 2011-12  --  2.01; 2012-13 --  1.66
THE WUR:  2012-13  --   5.36
QS  WUR    2012-13  --   3.97

The CWUR rankings, once we leave the top 20, are extremely volatile, even more than the THE and QS rankings. This, unfortunately, is enough to undermine their credibility. A pity since there are some promising ideas here.