Once again U-Multirank, the European Commission supported world university rankings, was largely ignored by the British media and higher education establishment despite its claim to be the largest global university ranking.

U-Multirank logoOnly 13 UK universities actively participated in the 2016 rankings – just one more than last year – and no British institution topped any of the benchmarking listings.

With little sign of any compromise in the way the data is collected and published, both the bulk British higher education establishments and U-Multirankers in Brussels seem content to go their own sweet ways.

US dominance for research, but…

This year’s rankings, which looked in detail at the diversity of strengths in over 1,300 universities from more than 90 countries, once again showed the dominance of North American universities for research.

But U-Multirank doesn’t give extra weighting to research in the five dimensions it looks at – the other areas being knowledge transfer, international orientation, regional engagement and teaching & learning.

This means it throws up different ‘winners’ than the traditional league tables and gives non-Anglophone institutions a chance to shine.

Giving smaller countries a chance to shine

It also exposes weaknesses among US universities in fields like international orientation, with Professor Frans van Vught, U-Multirank’s joint project leader, saying: “A key to U-Multirank is that it highlights how universities in smaller countries often outperform those in larger countries for international orientation.

“US universities tend to work with one another in their American system!”

Top performers for student mobility

Drill down to top performers in, say, inward and outward student mobility and you’ll find France’s IESEG School of Management Lille and the University of Management in Varna, Bulgaria, leading the pack.

Look at ‘international joint publications’ and Wiener Neustadt University of Applied Sciences in Austria is the top performer, followed by University Liechtenstein and King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia.

One of the values of U-Multirank not being a traditional league table, and not combining scores to produce overall winners, is that it can shine the spotlight on top performers in various selected areas often overlooked in other rankings.

New for 2016

A number of new subject areas have been included in the 2016 edition of U-Multirank to allow comparisons for teaching and learning.

These include Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology and Spain’s University of Barcelona and the University of Lodz, Poland took the top two spots for student-staff ratios.

The 2016 edition of U-Multirank is the third produced by the European Commission supported consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education, or CHE, in Germany; the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, or CHEPS, at the University of Twente; and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, or CWTS, from Leiden University, both in the Netherlands.

Frans van Vught of U-Multirank

Frans van Vught of U-Multirank

Frans Van Vught said: “We are happy with the amount of cooperation from universities worldwide. Many are clearly enthusiastic about U-Multirank since it shows individual strengths and profiles and offers a rich database for benchmarking with other institutions.”

780 actively involved

He said 780 universities worldwide are now ‘actively participating’ with U-Multirank – up from 672 last year. These institutions share their data and information with the project organisers. For other universities, U-Multirank relies on publicly available data.

“For some countries like Spain, Switzerland, Norway and Austria nearly the whole system is taking part,” said Frans.

More from US and China

From next year, U-Multirank plans to pre-fill the US institutions’ questionnaires with data from IPEDS, the federal US data system.

“Currently 168 US universities are in U-Multirank and we hope to enrol many more next year based on these pre-filled questionnaires which we will ask the universities to look at.

Frans said the target of reaching 1,000 active U-Multirank participants is on track for next year and said U-Multirank is talking to the Chinese Ministry of Education about ‘an experimental situation’ whereby a number of Chinese institutions will participate in U-Multirank next year.

New web tool

A new mobile web tool has also been created to help U-Multirank users create their own personalised rankings on their smart phone or tablet.

Joint UMR project leader Frank Ziegele

Joint UMR project leader Frank Ziegele

Professor Frank Ziegele, U-Multirank’s second joint project leader, said: “The latest release from U-Multirank shows again that there are many different ways in which universities can demonstrate excellence. Research is obviously an important one, but diversity of purpose is critical to the strength of higher education as a whole.”

+ This blog was adapted from a longer news report for University World News, published on 4 April, 2016, under the headline ‘US dominance challenged by new rankings’.