THE World University Rankings 2010

16 September 2010

Commenting on the THE World University Rankings (2010) published today, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of The Russell Group of research-intensive universities said: 

“The real story behind all world league tables is that our universities still punch way above their weight on the world stage.  But we will really struggle to sustain this success if we are subject to yet more cuts while our international competitors are pumping billions into their leading universities.

“The picture painted by the THE league table is certainly bleak for UK higher education but the many league tables on offer diverge widely in their results and methodology. Only last week, the QS league table placed eight UK universities in the top 50 and 19 UK universities in the world’s top 100. This new THE table clearly has its limitations and inconsistencies – its compilers themselves admit to ‘anomalies’.

“Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that the world-class status of our universities is under threat from other countries, particularly the US, who are flourishing as a result of the extra billions their governments have ploughed into their leading institutions. The US also has the significant advantage of being able to top up this investment with higher contributions from their students.   

“Our leading UK universities still offer outstanding quality and punch above their weight on the world stage, generally coming second only to the US.  But their future is looking increasingly bleak if they are subject to more cuts and are prevented from asking for higher contributions from their graduates. 

“Our current 1.3% of GDP investment in higher education is already outpaced by the US, Germany, South Korea, Australia, Canada and Japan. Against the odds, with one percent of the world's population, 12% of scientific citations go to UK-based research. 

“It would be a great shame and profoundly counterproductive to the Government’s aim of strengthening our economy if we lost the invaluable asset of our world-class universities and the many economic, cultural and social benefits that flow from them.”

Notes to Editors

  1. A recent report by the European Commission (Assessing Europe’s University-based research,2010) expressed serious doubts about the feasibility of comparing universities, and an earlier report by HEFCE (Counting what is measured or measuring what counts? 2008) found that constraints on available data mean that league tables tend to simply ‘count what can be measured rather than measuring what counts’.  Making meaningful comparisons of universities both within, and across, national borders is a tough and complex challenge, not least because of issues relating to the robustness and comparability of data.  The fact that an individual institution can fare quite differently in the various league tables illustrates these problems very clearly.  
  2. Although rankings are attractive in their simplicity, there are other ways to compare universities.  For example, as an assessment of research the quality profiles generated by the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise is a more accurate indication of an institution’s research strength than any single ranking. Some experts have suggested that rather than focussing on rankings, quality profiles could be used more widely in comparing institutions (Brink, C ‘On quality and standards, Australian Universities Quality Forum, July 2009).

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