The lack of harmonised data on French universities has lead to biased information on the country's higher education institutions and weakened the visibility of the research carried out in them, concludes a French Senate report on the ranking of higher education published early in July.
At national level, the lack of a transparent system distorts the allocation of human and financial resources, notes the report. At international level, it harms the attractiveness of France as a destination for foreign students and researchers and decreases the visibility of university research.
Another consequence, the report argues, is that exaggerated attention is given to the so-called Shanghai ranking, an index for monitoring the research performance of universities around the world, which the Senate says "only partially and imperfectly reflects the reality". France's key bone of contention with the Shanghai index is that the number of citations of a institution's scientific research is used as a ranking factor. Paris says this works against countries that do not publish in English.
Senator Joël Bourdin, the rapporteur on the report, argues that the intrinsic value of the Shanghai ranking is highly questionable ["très discutable"] and owes its interest only to its "mobilising effect".
The highest-ranking French university in the 2006 Shanghai ranking was Paris VI in 39th place, while American universities occupy more than half of the top 100. The only European universities in the top 10 are the UK's Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
While French Higher Education Minister Valerie Pécresse has said she wishes to use the French EU Presidency to "lay down the foundations of common European criteria" for university classification, Bourdin argues that France should already go ahead and develop its own national classification system, as an EU-level process would take years.
Pécresse is expected to raise the issue during a meeting of EU education ministers in November.