No plans to alter world rankings: Times Higher Education

Phil Baty, Editor of Times Higher Education Rankings, speaks on reports of India specific rankings and the importance of having solid benchmarks

Smita Polite:Various sections of Indian media have been reporting that Times Higher Education (THE) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) are coming up with India specific rankings and are in the process of drawing up country specific indicators. Is this news true? If yes-Why did you feel the need for India specific rankings?

Phil Baty:There are many global university rankings systems out there, and some are more serious and reliable than others, but it is Times Higher Educations World University Rankings that Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for Human Resource Development has described as the principal yardstick that India should look to. This is because we employ a trusted, rigorous range of 13 separate performance indicators to capture the full range of a universitys activities teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The data is collected according to strict global data definitions by our data partners Thomson Reuters, so we are able to provide valuable tools and benchmarks not just for the millions of students and their families who come to our website, but also for senior university leaders and policymakers.

Because our data is so widely trusted around the world, Times Higher Education was invited to meet senior ministers from the Human Resource Development ministry and from the Planning Commission to join a Policy Dialogue in Delhi last year. We are delighted to be working closely with the Indian government to help make sure that our rich and trusted data can be used to help Indias higher education development, and drive to improve quality. We have no plans to alter the overall World University Rankings, and we would never change this international gold standard without extensive global consultation. But we are very happy to explore different balances of our metrics, and potentially new metrics, to help India better understand and monitor its universities performance against our trusted global benchmarks, but also reflecting local developmental priorities and concerns.

I outline my position in general here:

Q: There have been claims that the standing council of IITs has held meetings with you on ranking IITs and you had arranged a workshop in May 2013 where IITs and NITs were invited. Would you like to clear the air?

A: Yes, we held a highly productive and thought provoking meeting in Delhi last year. More details are here:

We are determined to continue with the productive and exciting dialogue with the Indian government and university community.

Q: There have even been reports that IITs may consider uniting for the rankings. Is that a possibility? Why? Why not?

A: Of course it is very important for India to have more of its leading institutions featuring in the world university rankings strong universities which can compete with the very best in the world in the creation of new knowledge and technological development, and in educating a smart, flexible and dynamic workforce for an uncertain future, will be crucial for Indias future economic success. But this needs to be based on real progress and real improvement, not just on presenting the data differently or trying to game the rankings systems.

There are rankings out there that can be manipulated by playing the numbers game and changing the way you submit existing data, but in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings upward movement can only come through real improvement: more powerful and influential research outputs; more income from government and industry, improved staff-student ratios; improved global networking and visibility.

So I fear that the group submission of ITTs will be a distraction from the real issues and will detract from real, exciting efforts to improve quality. Yes, it may help improve Indias visibility in some of the more shallow rankings which reward institutions just for being big, but it wont really help them climb the Times Higher Education rankings. We may not even be able to accept a group submission from IITs anyway, unless the IITs went through the disruption of legally forming as a single entity.

Well be seeking further meetings with the Planning Commission and MHRD to see how THE can work to help India make real improvements, tested against our established and trusted international benchmarks. There are really encouraging signs of strong initiatives to improve, but this doesnt really seem to be one of them.

Q: Are you considering any other country specific rankings? Why? Why not?

A: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are widely seen as the global gold standard for university comparisons, so there is huge demand around the world for richer, deeper data, based on our trusted benchmarks. So we are open to the idea of extending our work into regions, to provide a richer picture of global higher education. But our system at the moment is set up only to evaluate the worlds leading research-intensive institutions those on a world stage, hiring globally and publishing in world-class research journals. So if we go deeper into national systems, wed naturally need to look at different criteria to capture the different missions of institutions at the national level.

Q:Moving on to your international rankings, why are rankings important? Why should an institution participate in international rankings?

A: Global university rankings, done well, can be an essential tool for a wide range of stakeholders among Times Higher Educations global audience of many tens of millions we find that students and their families use them to ensure they are making informed decisions about perhaps the single most important decision of their lives, who to trust with their education. But they are also increasingly used by academics to inform career decisions, or to help forge new academic partnerships, and by university leaders to set strategies, and increasingly, as we have seen with Indias interest in rankings, and Russias, to help inform national higher education policy. Times Higher Educations rankings are widely seen as a powerful indicator of a nations competitiveness and its potential in the knowledge economy.

Institutions should participate for a number of important reasons primarily, good rankings give them solid and trusted performance benchmarks that can help them monitor their development and share good practice and to ultimately improve their performance. But they also of course ensure universities get the global visibility that they deserve. The THE rankings do not just reward the traditional elites of the US and UK we really are seeing some rising stars, particularly from Asia, and as they gain a foothold in the rankings it helps them attract top talent globally and new opportunities and partnerships.

Of course rankings are also among the top priorities for students when they chose a place to study, and Times Higher Educations rankings are the most widely used and trusted by students. See: And:

Q: Why did THE come up with Rankings? How have the Rankings evolved from the time it was launched in 2004?

A: We first produced the rankings in 2004 in response to demand a UK government-led review into the UKs competiveness recommended better international benchmarks for universities and we were aware that students were becoming increasingly mobile across borders for their study opportunities and that universities increasingly compared themselves with global peers.

The rankings have changed dramatically since 2004 back then they were the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, published with QS. But in 2009 we rejected the QS system as not fit for purpose and developed new rankings with a new data partner, Thomson Reuters. QS continued with the system we had rejected. We addressed a large number of fundamental weaknesses with the QS system and consulted widely on more sophisticated, balanced and comprehensive rankings.

Q: The HRD ministry that looks after higher education in India has been saying that the parameters used for US and UK institutions cannot be used in India as the systems are different and there are many variations. There are over 700 universities 35500 colleges across different systems-funded by Central government, funded by State government and funded by Private ventures. What are your comments on this?

A: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings were not designed for US and UK institutions they were designed as a truly global ranking system, and they were developed after widespread consultation in 2009 and 2010 with a wide range of stakeholders from all over the world. Our expert advisory panel is made up of more than 50 people, from all continents.

But they are designed just for a certain type of institution the world-class research-intensive university. So the world rankings would only be an appropriate system for the very top Indian universities with global aspirations. They are set up to judge institutions which may have different histories and structures, but which are all operating at a global level in terms of research and student and faculty recruitment, and all see themselves as global peers.

It would be wrong to use this global system to judge national systems each country will have a rich variety of institutions with different missions and priorities. Such different missions need different metrics to evaluate them.

Q: Along with THE, AWRU and QS rankings are now considered the three major players in international rankings. What differentiates THE from the others?

A: AWRU is very well respected but it is extremely narrow its rankings are based 100 per cent on research, so they tell us nothing about the things students, for example, might care about. The QS system was rejected by Times Higher Education on the grounds that it was just far too simplistic half of the overall score is based on subjective opinion, based on surveys, and they give heavy weight (20 per cent) to a very crude proxy for teaching a faculty-student ratio. You cant really tell how good the food is in a restaurant by the number of waiters you have serving you.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are the only global university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.

Q: What would you say are the criteria that institutions should consider in order to decide which rankings to participate in?

A: They actually do not have a choice about participating in some rankings QS, for example, ranks universities whether they want to be ranked or not, sometimes just scraping data from the web. Times Higher Education, in stark contrast, is a fully voluntary and cooperative system. Every university we rank has recognized the value of sharing data and participating in the evaluation. Id say this partnership approach is perhaps the most powerful incentive for institutions to work with THE. The system is mutually beneficial as it offers real intelligence to institutions about their own performance, against trusted global standards.

Q: You have said earlier that you would rank only the top 200 institutions as the lower you go the differentials become less meaningful. If that is the case then how can institutions lower on the list differentiate/benchmark themselves?

A: We dont reveal the overall aggregate scores for those institutions below 200, but we do of course reveal the scores against our balanced range of categories teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income. So theres a wide range of rich data available outside the top 200. We also, of course, share detailed information back with the institutions privately.

Q: You have also said that not all institutions should aspire to be in the top lists. What does that mean and why? How should institutions go about deciding whether they should aspire to be in the top 1 percent at some distant future?

A: If you aspire to be a global, research-led university, competing for the top talent in the world on a world stage, you will want to be part of the THE World University Rankings. If your mission is to be a local teaching-focused institution, serving a local labour market, and eschewing research, than the metrics we use will not be suitable for you. There are many different models of excellence in higher education there is no one size fits all approach to evaluation so different types of institution need different metrics.

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