In a European University Association report on 'Global university rankings and their impact', published last week, 13 global ranking systems were scrutinised, including the high-profile Shanghai Academic and Times Higher Education lists.
Such rankings only cover around 3% of the world's universities (17,000) and the ratings reflect university research performance "far more accurately than teaching," because the indicators used to rank teaching are "all proxies, and their link to the quality of teaching is indirect at best," according to the report.
Existing systems biased towards English language
It also found that the global rankings favour universities from English-language nations because non-English language work is both published and cited less, giving non-English academics lower scores.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Jan Truszcyński, director-general at the Commission's DG Education, said that the EU’s U-Multirank scheme would be included in amendments to the Professional Qualifications Directive later this year, in an effort to bring it formally into effect.
The Commission's U-Multirank, developed over two years by a consortium of academics and funded by the Commission, is described as "a new, user-driven, multidimensional and multi-level ranking tool in higher education and research".
A final feasibility study last month concluded that the system is ready to be implemented, depending on future funding and commercial support. Truszcyński said that although the Commission was prepared to fund the first year of the full U-Multirank system once it is ready to be rolled out, from then on it would have to be funded from other sources, likely to be a combination of national governments and European educational foundations.
Data could be used to make league tables
U-Multirank aims not to produce a single league table, but to allow its users to choose which institutions to compare and which criteria to use to compare them. The idea is that the system compares like with like, takes into account the diverse range of university missions, and avoids the focus on a research-driven 'reputation race' created by the existing world rankings.
However, such data could be used by media outlets, and by universities themselves, as a tool for creating their own league tables.
The U-Multirank would meet criticisms levelled in a 2008 report by the French Senate, which concluded that a lack of harmonised data on French universities had led to biased information on the country's higher education institutions and weakened the visibility of the research carried out in them.
The Senate proposed the development of a new European university ranking system to counter the powerful Shanghai world ranking, which is said to favour English-language institutions.