The Times Higher Education “Impact” Rankings (which I described yesterday) just dropped a couple of hours ago. You can browse the results here. The main news you readers need to know is that CANADA IS AWESOME (at least if you give any credence to these rankings). McMaster came second overall, UBC third, U Montréal seventh, and five other institutions (Waterloo, York, Toronto, Laval and Ottawa) making the top 100. McMaster also came first overall in the category “decent work and economic growth” (which measures research in economics, employment practices and % of students taking work placements); UBC took top spot in the “climate action” category, which measures research on climate change, use of energy and preparations for dealing with climate change (and yes, all the folks in the UBC Divestment movement are going to find that one hilarious).
The overall top ten are definitely not your usual suspects. University of Auckland came top overall, two Swedish universities cracked the top ten (Gothenburg and KTH Royal institute of Technology), as did the University of Bologna, the University of Hong Kong, as well as the University of Manchester and Kings College London. In fact, of the top 50 schools in this ranking, only three (UofT, UBC and Hong Kong) made the top 50 in THE’s 2019 World Ranking released last fall; eight were not ranked in the top 500 and one of them (University of Worcester, which only got degree-granting status in 2005) was not ranked at all.
So, are these rankings really different? Have we finally found a set of rankings which don’t just reward money and research intensity? Well, maybe. As I noted yesterday, there are a lot of indicators in this ranking which are non-traditional – some of which are interesting and probably valid and others which are just weird (I am still trying to figure out how the Iran University of Medical Sciences came 6th overall in “quality education” which, among other things, measures universities’ contribution to research on pedagogy and the number of teachers they churn out, when it doesn’t have a Faculty of Education).
But the real reason we see all change at the top is that most of the universities that top the usual THE rankings just didn’t participate. The total number of rankable submissions was only 460, and they were significantly weighted towards the “less prestigious” end of the world university spectrum. Of the 60 US members of the Association of American Universities (excluding McGill and Toronto who, by a historical fluke, are also members), only five participated, and none of them were Ivies. Of the 23 members of the Leading European Research Universities (LERU) organization, only five participated. And of the nine members of China’s C-9 consortium (a sort-of Ivy equivalent), none participated. Among the big OECD countries, only Canada, Australia and Japan saw high participation rates from its best universities.
It might be tempting to dunk on THE for this low participation rate, particularly when the Global Rankings’ editorial director, Phil Baty, spent so much time dunking on U-Multirank for exactly the same reason when it launched six years ago. But it’s not really the THE’s fault. This is what happens every time someone tries to mess with prestige rankings. The big schools boycotted U-Multirank. They pulled strings to kill the OECD’s AHELO project. It’s what they do. Prestigious universities are very happy to play the rankings game, provided the rules are set in such a way that it is clear that they will win (so some kudos, please, for the University of Toronto, which was the highest-ranked school anywhere in the world to have submitted data to these rankings). Good on the THE for trying to make a go of it, but even they, with their massive presence in the higher education sector, couldn’t force prestige institutions to submit to a ranking they didn’t think was in their interest.
So, yes, Canadian schools did well, and these new rankings do showcase a new group of “top” institutions. But to some extent, that’s a function of most of the usual “top” universities simply refusing to play in this sandbox. As usual, take it all with some salt.
Note: An error has been corrected on this post indicating that only two institutions in the top 50 for Impact Ratings are in the top 50 in the world rankings. There are, in fact, three institutions in both lists: UBC, UofT, and Hong Kong.