Nieuws - 4 oktober 2012

University ranked higher again

Wageningen UR has risen from position 75 to 70 in the World University Rankings of Times Higher Education. All the Dutch universities on the list have gone up, but they have not necessarily become better.

Asian universities are improving fast. This is the global situation indicated in the new quality evaluation of universities, says the Times Higher Education (THE). The dominance of universities from western countries is diminishing. But there are exceptions. THE gives credit to a small country on the North Sea which is doing surprisingly well on the ranking of the 200 best universities in the world. Not only are there twelve Dutch universities on the list, all of them are doing better compared to last year.
Leiden has gone up from position 79 to position 64, Utrecht from 68 to 67 and Wageningen is now the third best Dutch university at position 70. More spectacular is the rise of Rotterdam from 157 all the way to 72, Delft from 104 to 77 and Groningen enters the top 100 with a flourish: 134 last year and 89 now. Have all of them improved so much compared to last year? Not really; their 'outstanding performance' is due to research data having been submitted in a better way to the office which computes the scores. Wageningen UR did the same last year; by providing better statistics, it rose from position 144 to 75. Other universities have now learned the tricks.
The universities can start issuing lofty press releases, but these will interfere with the picture painted by THE education analysts. While Asian countries have invested tremendously in higher education, European countries and the United States are skimping on it, partly because of the economic crisis. But the ranking is still dominated by American and British universities. Caltech is now the number 1, Stanford and Oxford are sharing the second place, and Harvard has fallen to number 4. The first Asian university enters only at position 27. And yet, the top universities are losing their leading position, claims Dirk Van Damme of the OECD, the organization for developing countries.
According to Van Damme, the top universities put too much emphasis on reputation and their ability to obtain research funds, but they are not really effective in converting these funds into publications and citations. The universities ranked between 40 and 100 are doing better, adds Van Damme, and in this way, complacent top universities have become less innovative than those who have not yet made it to the top.
For Wageningen UR as a specialized university, being in position 70 on the general ranking list is not very significant. It is more important to be compared with other universities with the same chairs and programmes. After all, these are the universities which Wageningen has to compete against when recruiting foreign students. As such, Wageningen should look at the THE ranking of life sciences universities with a high bio(techno)logy and/or medical technology content. Last year, Wageningen rose to position 17 here, behind 12 American and four British universities. What about this year?  Patience. This list will be published later this year.