University Rankings: Round 4 – Times Higher Ed

Next up in the international university rankings, we have the 2012/2013 Times Higher Education (THE) rankings.  More specifically, we’ll look at the Engineering & Technology rankings.

Methodology

I’ve had trouble trying to figure out this methodology.  According to their website, the weighting of the different factors is given at the foot of the tables, but I can’t find it!  So here’s a summary of the general methodology (used for overall rankings?), although it may be a bit different for the Engineering & Technology subject grouping.

Like the QS rankings, THE uses a bunch of metrics with a relative weighting, sub-divided as follows:

Teaching (total 30%):

  • Academic reputation survey on teaching:  15%
  • Staff to student ratio:  4.5%
  • Doctorate to bachelor degrees awarded ratio:  2.25%
  • Number of doctorates awarded (scaled to size):  6%
  • Institutional income (scaled to size):  2.25%

International Outlook (total 7.5%):

  • International to domestic student ratio:  2.5%
  • International to domestic staff ratio:  2.5%
  • Journal publications with international co-authors:  2.5%

Research (total 30%):

  • Research reputational survey:  18%
  • Research income (scaled):  6%
  • Research publications per academic:  6%

Citations (total 30%):

  • Research paper citations:  30%

Industry Income (total 2.5%):

  • Research income from industry:  2.5%

So, about 33% of the total comes from “reputation” scores, and the rest comes from various numbers including bibliometrics (publications, citations, etc.)

Results

The THE Engineering & Technology rankings only list the top 50 worldwide.  Within Canada, those rankings are:  Toronto (22) and UBC (39), and that’s it.  Last year, McGill and Waterloo made the top 50 (at #47 and 48), but they must have dropped a few places and fell off the list.  Toronto dropped 4 places and UBC dropped 6 from 2011, so that would seem to be the reason.

Why the drop?  Are Canadian universities getting worse?  Somehow I doubt it.  Things like the number of staff don’t usually change that much from year to year, and  reputations are generally quite slow to change.  It seems that other universities have popped up into higher ranks for some reason.  As the website points out, Nanyang Technological University jumped from 50th last year to 26th.  That seems rather odd, and I wonder if a few large research grant awards have skewed the results.  We’ll have to wait a few years and see how much “noise” is really in this data (assuming they don’t change the methodology).

Meaning

As usual, I’m not quite sure what this ranking would really mean for undergraduate education.  The data related to “Teaching” are possibly the most relevant, but half of that score is reputation.  I’m not sure how a survey of academics can tell you much about teaching quality at other institutions.  I’m sure we can have our opinions, but do I really know anything about teaching quality at the University of Calgary, for example?  Honestly, no because I’ve never been a student there.  And even if I was, that would have been 20+ years ago, so my opinion would be a bit outdated.

Also, none of  these metrics measure things that are important to students at Waterloo Engineering, like the co-operative education opportunities.  So, have fun looking at the rankings and speculating, but don’t forget there are many other things to consider.

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