The EU’s education commissioner Tuesday (13 May) launched a new global ranking system of universities, that rates them across many more criteria than traditional league tables.
The system, dubbed U-Multirank, was funded with €2 million from the European Union. Five criteria, not including research excellence, are taken into account by this new online tool; research performance, quality of teaching and learning, international orientation, success in knowledge transfer and regional involvement.
Assessing the performance of 850 higher education institutions in 70 countries, It “produces multidimensional listings rating universities on a much wider range of factors than existing international rankings,” the European Commission said.
Androulla Vassiliou, commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, said, “We are proud of our world-class higher education, but we need many kinds of universities, catering for a wide range of needs; that means strong technical and regional universities just as much as outstanding research universities.
“U-Multirank highlights many excellent performers that do not show up in current, research-focused, global rankings, including more than 300 universities that have never appeared in any world ranking until now,” she said.
The ranking grades the universities’ performances from A (very good) to E (weak). It helps students identify the strengths and weaknesses of each university in the subject they are interested in, instead of “simplistic league tables”.
On top of the institutions’ performance, the listing also ranks them in the fields of business studies, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics. As of 2015, psychology, computer science and medicine will be added to the list.
The results show that more than 95% of higher education institutions achieve an “A” score on at least one measure, U-Multirank said, but only 12% of the institutions “show a broad range of very good performances (more than 10 “A” scores).”
“This diversity of performance has not been shown before in any international ranking,” the commission said.
The new tool however is not universally acclaimed. The Leuven-based “League of European Research Universities” (Leru) pulled out from U-Multirank earlier this year although it was initially involved.
In February 2013, the secretary general Kurt Deketelaere said, “We consider U-Multirank at best an unjustifiable use of taxpayers’ money and at worst a serious threat to a healthy higher education system.
“Leru has serious concerns about the lack of reliable, solid and valid data for the chosen indicators in U-Multirank, about the comparability between countries, about the burden put upon universities to collect data and about the lack of ‘reality-checks’ in the process thus far.”
Contacted by EurActiv, Leru did not wish to comment for the time being on the new tool “until this weekend’s rectors’ meeting.”
Leru will publish its comments on Monday (19 May), a representative for the organisation said.
The European Students´ Union (ESU) welcomed the new project: “U-multirank will highlight universities that have until now been disregarded in the existing measures used in global ranking systems, overlooking the strengths of those institutions. Higher education and research institutions have different profiles and missions. Any information tools developed to rate the performance of various institutions should thus reflect the multidimensional function of higher education.”
An independent consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) in Germany and the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) in the Netherlands compiled the new ranking system. Other partner organisations include the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University (the Netherlands), Catholic University Leuven (Belgium), academic publishers Elsevier, the Bertelsmann Foundation and software firm Folge 3. The consortium also works closely with a range of national ranking partners and stakeholder organisations.
A new approach to university rankings was first proposed by member states in 2008 and the European Commission invited experts to carry out a feasibility study to ensure it would have the support of universities and students. The consortium was responsible for the selection process and methodology.
Of the 850 universities featuring in U-Multirank, more than 500 provided comprehensive data. The others were assessed on the basis of data available through publicly available sources such as patent data bases in the area of research and knowledge transfer.
U-Multirank received €2 million in EU funding from the former Lifelong Learning Programme (now Erasmus+) for the years 2013-2015, with the possibility of a further two years of funding in 2015-2017. The goal is for an independent organisation to manage the ranking on a sustainable business model thereafter.