All entries for Friday 22 October 2004

October 22, 2004

Top Ten … [world] Universities

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Matt Chapman has prompted an interesting discussion on his blog; prompted by a remark on Question Time which inferred the only two UK universities capable of competing on the world stage are Oxford and Cambridge, quite a few comments are popping up claiming that this is due to cashing in on historic brand.

I'd like to challenge that view and propose something which suggests that the remark may not only be true but have some substance behind it. If I wanted to assert that Cambridge and Oxford are the only two UK universities able to compete on a truly global scale then how could I do so?

Well, depending on how you rank them, the top 10 Universities in the world are apparently

  1. Harvard
  2. Stanford
  3. Cambridge (UK)
  4. UC Berkely
  5. MIT
  6. CalTech
  7. Princeton
  8. Oxford (UK)
  9. Columbia
  10. Chicago

Yale, that's 11th, with Cornell, UC San Diego, and Tokyo next in line. We (UK) next get a showing at 23rd and 25th positions. Then 47th, 60th and 69th.

What is really, really interesting is looking at how these rankings are constructed. The methodology is online here. For those that can't be bothered, these are some things that they don't pay any attention to at all.

  1. How many work area PCs there are.
  2. Numbers of type of class of degree awarded.
  3. Is the Student Union any good

(Hell, they don't even count the employment rates after graduation)

Want to know how to build a University with a worldwide (not just regional, but global) brand in the top ten? Well, this is what they measured and perhaps herein lie the answers.

  1. Alumni of that institution who go on to win Nobel prizes
  2. Staff who win Nobel prizes and Fields medals
  3. Staff who are highly cited researchers
  4. How many articles published in Nature and Science (they shift this to other areas for places like LSE, which only do Humanities and Social Sciences)
  5. How many articles published in the expanded Science and Social Science citation index
  6. Academic performance related to size of Institution

Our very own Andrew Oswald wrote an article in the Independent (which I can't find online) which is how I ran into this site. In it, he suggests that perhaps these are not entirely unrealistic measures for a University to be benchmarked against – our currency is not the investment we make in sports facilities, but our ideas, and these are measures of just that.

Fact is: the world is a big place. If we are going to try and compete on a global scale then we have to understand where we are (and not where we like to deceive ourselves into thinking we are). If we don't, then we won't stand a chance of succeeding.

Just my $0.02 … (pun intended)


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