The new global university rankings recently released by the European Commission funded U-Multirank were largely ignored by the British media, so here’s a brief résumé of what they tell us about who is best at what!

U-Multirank claims it is not about creating overall league tables of winners and losers in the world university ranking stakes, but that’s inevitably how many people will try to analyse the results.

So when putting together a news feature on U-Multirank’s second edition for University World News, I was looking for ways of interpreting the rankings that made media sense.

You have got to adopt a different mindset when trying to compare U-Multirank with the ‘Ranking World Establishment’ led by QS, Times Higher Education, or THE, and the ARWU Shanghai rankings.

More of a comparison website

For starters, there’s no overall ‘Top 200’ league table created through composite scores.

Instead U-Multirank, UMR, is a web-based tool designed to encourage ‘like-with-like’ comparisons to find the strongest performing university for whatever users are looking for.

If that’s for inward and outward student mobility – a subject close to our hearts here at De la Cour Communications – it’s pretty straightforward once you’ve got used to the rather clunky UMR software.

So what do the U-Multirank results tell us?

RockefellerUnsurprisingly US universities continue to dominate the rankings for research and patents, with Rockefeller, MIT, Stanford, Harvard and Princeton universities taking all five of the highest scores for top cited research publications.

But they didn’t have it all their own way, as I explained in my University World News piece.

Russian success

For despite Rockefeller University in New York being the only university to get 5 ‘Top 5’ spots in different indicators used by UMR, it was a Russian university that shared ranking success on the next rung down.

Lomonosov Moscow State University joined high-flying Caltech and MIT in the United States in gaining 4 ‘Top 5’ spots.

The two American universities won their top rankings for patents awarded and research, while Lomonosov was in the top five for both master and bachelor graduates working in the region and also for art related research output.

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Lomonosov Moscow State University

But, perhaps the biggest surprise was Lomonosov being the highest ranked globally for external research income.


While this could be seen as a triumph for President Putin’s ambitious 2020 vision of getting five Russian universities in the top 100 world rankings, it also exposes one of the peculiarities of U-Multirank: for many of the world’s research-intensive universities still withhold their data from the EU-backed rankings.

Professor Frans van Vught, UMR’s joint project leader from the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies, or CHEPS, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, told me for University World News article: “Lomonosov’s top score in research income is based on a comparison with the 672 institutions that actively provided data themselves, and not with the total sample of 1210 institutions.

“Unlike, say, top cited publications or patents awarded, external research income is not a bibliometric indicator and therefore we cannot compare Lomonosov’s data with the Harvards and Oxfords, simply because they have not provided us with the data.”

How U-Multirank works

This year U-Multirank compared the performance of 1,210 higher education institutions – up from 850 last year! They were ranked using a variety of indicators across five dimensions: teaching & learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional engagement.

U-Multirank grades universities from ‘A’ for very good to ‘E’ for weak and this year published a list of universities with the highest scores in 24 of the 31 indicators it uses to compare institutional performance.

Universities were examined from 83 countries, with higher education institutions from 39 countries winning at least one ‘Top 5’ spot in the different indicators.

The results revealed pockets of excellence around the world, with 148 institutions from 29 countries achieving ten or more top ‘A’ grades.

Mixed results for UK universities

Unfortunately, no British university made any of the ‘Top 5’ spots, which probably is one reason why the UK media and its education reporters largely ignored the results.

There is also still a reluctance of some of Britain’s most prestigious universities to embrace the Brussels-based rankings and supply information.

Surely, this has nothing to do with the UK’s famed Euroscepticism, but that is how it is largely seen on the continent!

Newcastle University performed strongly in U-Multirank 2015

Newcastle University performed strongly in U-Multirank 2015

Despite British reluctance to take part, there were several strong performers among the 12 UK institutions ‘fully participating’ in U-Multirank this year.

Newcastle University gained 17 ‘A’ scores, winning at least one ‘A’ grade in all five dimensions. Nottingham achieved 16 ‘A’ grades and Liverpool gained 15 ‘A’ scores.

Among British universities who declined to supply their own data, Cambridge, Imperial College London and Sheffield University all gained ten ‘A’ scores out of the 12 indicators assessed purely on the basis of bibliometric and patent data.

Strong European performance

Unsurprisingly, European universities dominated many of the indicators.

They overwhelmed the international orientation and regional engagement dimensions and performed strongly for knowledge transfer.

Germany’s Reutlingen University of Applied Science had the highest percentage of co-publications with industry and three French business schools – EDHEC, ESSEC and IESEG School of Management Lille – each gained two ‘Top 5’ spots for different indicators.

University College Cork in Ireland won the highest overall number of ‘A’ scores, with 21 top grades spread across all five dimensions. Two Dutch universities shared second and third places, with Eindhoven gaining 20 and Wageningen getting 19.

UMR’s Frank Ziegele told University World News he was encouraged that U-Multirank was showcasing excellence across the globe, with Asian, African and South American universities also among those picking up ‘A’ scores for specific indicators.

Future plans

Joint UMR project leader Frank Ziegele

Joint UMR project leader Frank Ziegele

Looking to the future, Frank Ziegele said: “The European Commission is pleased with the performance so far and has pledged to continue our funding until 2017, bringing their total investment in U-Multirank to €4m over four years.

“The number of active participates is up from 520 in our first year to just over 670 and we’re on target is to have 1,000 fully participating universities by 2017.

“We’ve got nearly every university in countries, like Spain, and there’s lots of interest from outside Europe, particularly from Japan.

“Next year we’re expanding the fields of study ranked; and we’re hoping that by 2017 to attract sufficient funding from philanthropic international foundations to allow us to continue to provide an open source of comparable data for students, universities and other interested users.”

Final word to Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, who said: “U-Multirank has once again shown its added value. I am very pleased that with the seed-funding for U-Multirank from the Erasmus+ programme, the EU is helping to bring new transparency to how universities perform so students can make well-informed study choices and universities can build on their strengths.”

For more about U-Multirank

Read my original report for University World News, published on March 30 2015, headlined: U-Multirank throws up surprises in new league tables.

U-Multirank Readymade rankings (broken into the best universities for Research; Knowledge Transfer and Regional Engagement; Teaching and Learning; and International Orientation)

Also see my earlier blogs’

Should we take U-Multirank seriously? 10 March 2015-04-03

A tale of two international university rankings, 18 February 2015