The 2018 edition of U-Multirank provides new insight into the relative strengths and weaknesses of different higher education systems around Europe and the United States, with the United Kingdom and Ireland performing the strongest for Teaching and Learning as a result of their good ‘on-time’ student completion rates.

U-Multirank claims to be the world’s largest global university ranking, with a total of more than 1,600 universities from 95 countries compared for their strengths and weaknesses using indicators in five dimensions – Teaching & Learning; Research; Knowledge Transfer; International Orientation and Regional Engagement. It grades these on the basis of A for “very good” to E for “poor”. 

The UK as a whole scored 73% of A (very good) and B (good) rankings in the Teaching and Learning dimension of this year’s U-Multirank with Ireland coming a close second – scoring 72.5% of top grades for graduation and on-time completion rates for both bachelor’s and master’s programmes.

New national rankings

The national rankings are a new feature this year and show the relative performance of national higher education systems in 18 countries.

The US was top in the research dimension, with an overall score of 75.6% for A and B grades. Rockefeller University performed the strongest for citation rate followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT.

But the US had one of the weakest scores for international performance, achieving just 30.4% of A and B grades in the ranking dimension looking at foreign language teaching provision, student mobility, international academic staff, international doctorate degrees and international joint publications.

Smaller countries perform strongly

Joint UMR project leader Frank Ziegele

U-Multirank co-leader Dr Frank Ziegele from the Centre for Higher Education in Germany, said: “The new national rankings show small European countries performing very well in some areas, especially for international orientation, with Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Norway all out-performing the US and Germany in the international dimension of the rankings.

Germany performed poorly for Teaching and Learning, with just 24.4% of A and B scores due, in part, to non-completion rates and students taking longer to graduate. It did better for research with 56% top scores and for international orientation (50.6%) and knowledge transfer (49.6%).

France scored 70.8% for Teaching and Learning and 72.5% in the international dimension of U-Multirank.

Finland had a surprisingly low score for “on time completion rates” in Teaching and Learning – just 26.7% – but achieved  59.4% for research and 71.4% for international orientation.

Belgium was the top scorer for research among the 18 higher education systems probed by U-Multirank, with 82.9%, but sunk to 26.3% for Teaching and Learning.

Switzerland performed strongly across many of the indicators.

This year’s edition of the rankings is the first since new governance and funding model was agreed with financial support for U-Multirank shared between the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme and the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany and Spanish Santander Group.

Looking beyond traditional indicators

Ziegele said: “What is unique about U-Multirank is that we look beyond the traditional indicators, such as reputation among other academics and research strength. This allows users to create their own personal rankings for the particular strengths they are looking for, which might be student mobility or the percentage of international academic staff at the university.”

It also allows credit to be given for areas often overlooked, such as regional engagement. Spain’s universities, for example, are very good at engaging with and supporting their local regions as are universities in Ireland, Italy and Poland, according to U-Multirank data.

Top universities for different things

Ziegele says: “Our approach means there are no overall winners in U-Multirank, just the top universities for different things which we highlight as the ‘Top 25’ universities in the different dimensions.”

This 2018 U-Multirank shows great diversity in higher education excellence with 225 universities getting at the highest ‘A’ score in at least one area.

As a whole, Europe performs best in the global ‘Top 25’ lists, achieving 56% of the overall top scores, followed by Asia with 21.7% and US & Canada with 18.6%.

European universities took 24 of the top 25 spots for student mobility with Asian universities strongest for international joint publications and patents – achieving ten and nine of the top 25 positions respectively. The US was strongest for top-cited and research publications with 15 and 13 of the top 25 positions respectively.

Ziegele said to improve their coverage of universities more and more of the data used to create U-Multirank is obtained from publicly available information, but he accepted there were still some gaps at the subject-level where universities declined to provide the data.

Despite the reluctance of U-Multirank to declare overall winners, some universities stood out for their outstanding performance this year in more than one dimension, said Ziegele

Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, a specialised institution characterised by a high percentage of international students, performed well across various U-Multirank indicators, with 17 ‘A’ (very good) scores.

Maastricht University in the Netherlands had an overall profile showing top performance across various indicators, with 16 ‘A’ scores.

Technical University of Denmark was another top performer in U-Multirank with 16 ‘A’ scores across the dimensions.

Newcastle University in the UK was another having a high percentage of international students and gained 16 ‘A’ scores.

Ziegele now hopes to develop U-Multirank further by working with the Chinese government to expand coverage of Chinese universities as the data required is not publicly available. He also wants a greater focus on Latin America in future editions of U-Multirank.

* Find out which university is the best match for you, according to U-Multirank

*  This article is a slightly abridged version of my article for University World News published on 15 June 2018, under the headline ‘UK, Ireland top U-Multirank on teaching and learning’.