More rankings: Shanghai Jiao Tong, Forbes (& AHELO?)

Posted by Eric on August 14th, 2008

Tomorrow, the new 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities will be officially published. Not surprisingly, it’s an almost all American affair. It’s rather interesting that the publication of the Shanhai Jiao Tong rankings almost goes by unnoticed, especially if you compare it to the publication of the Times Higher Education Supplement/QS World University Rankings (the THES-QS rankings 2008 will be published on 9 October).

This exactly is the strength of the SJT ranking. After all, universities are robust organisations and don’t change a lot in a years time. I guess it therefore corresponds with reality that the top 10 of 2008 is exactly the same as the one of 2007. Actually, not much has changed at all (although I of course did notice that the University of Sydney – my former employer – entered the top 100; the top 500 list is here).

2008(2007) University
1 (1)   Harvard University
2 (2)   Stanford University
3 (3)   University California – Berkeley
4 (4)   University Cambridge
5 (5)   Massachusetts Inst Tech (MIT)
6 (6)   California Inst Tech
7 (7)   Columbia University
8 (8)   Princeton University
9 (9)   University of Chicago
10 (10)   University of Oxford

The main critique on the SJT rankings is that they only give an indication of a university’s research quality. They have only one proxy for teaching quality and that one isn’t exactly saying much about teaching quality at all. I have already pointed to some alternatives for these research biased rankings and league tables, for instance the new ranking being develop by CCAP (Center for College Affordability and Productivity).

This last one has now been published by Forbes Magazine. And yes…the criteria are very different than the ones we are used to:

  1. Listing of Alumni in the 2008 Who’s Who in America (25%)
  2. Student Evaluations of Professors from Ratemyprofessors.com (25%)
  3. Four- Year Graduation Rates (16 2/3%)
  4. Enrollment-adjusted numbers of students and faculty receiving nationally competitive awards (16 2/3%)
  5. Average four year accumulated student debt of those borrowing money (16 2/3%)

And what’s the result?

2008 University
1 Princeton University
2 California Institute of Technology
3 Harvard University
4 Swarthmore College
5 Williams College
6 United States Military Academy
7 Amherst College
8 Wellesley College
9 Yale University
10 Columbia University

Compared with the SJT rankings, it are especially the liberal art colleges and the military colleges that are evident in the Forbes ranking. The high quality liberal arts colleges in the US (and elsewhere) are unfortunately lacking in nearly all international rankings. The reasons for this is of course again that these rankings are so research biased.

Another thing that I noticed after looking through the rest of the list is the relatively low standing of the public research universities. University of Virginia is the first one on 43, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at 66 and UC Berkeley at 73.This is probably due to another flaw in most rankings, that is that they measure the quality of the graduates without looking at the quality of the inputs. For more criticism on this ranking, see the comments on Vedder’s article in Inside HigherEd and the critical contribution of Patricia McGuire.

This challenge of actually measuring the added value provided by the university is taken up by the OECD’s AHELO project: assessing learning outcomes in higher education (sometimes referred to as the PISA for higher education). This exercise is still in it’s early stages and currently they are at the stage of studying the feasibility of such an exercise. And although the OECD explicitly does not want to promote it as a ranking, it might provide an alternative for the league tables.

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