The One True Ranking Narrative

Yesterday saw the release of the 2019 Times Higher World University Rankings. The main table of rankings can be found here and the methodology used to concoct it here.

It seems that there’s little point in doing so, but I’ll try to reiterate the objections I made last year and the year before that and the year before that to the completely unscientific nature of these tables. My main point is that when changes to the methodology used to compile these tables are introduced no attempt is ever made to distinguish their effect from changes in the input data. This would be quite easy to do, by simply running the old methodology alongside the new on the metrics. The compilers of these tables steadfastly refuse to do this straightforward exercise, I suspect this is because they know what the result would be: that many of the changes in these tables year-on-year are the result of artificially introduced `churn’.

And then there’s the questions of whether you think the metrics used are meaningful anyway, and whether any changes not due to methodological tweaks are simply statistical noise, but I have neither the time nor the energy to go into that one now…

Notwithstanding the reasonable objections to these tables, the newspapers are full of stories constructed to explain why some universities went up, some went down and others stayed roughly the same. Most of these articles were obviously written by that well-known journalist, Phil Space.

However, not all these narratives are meaningless. The latest Times Higher World University Rankings have revealed that here in Ireland, while more famous higher education establishments such as Trinity College Dublin have fallen three places due to , my own institution (Maynooth University) is one of only two to have risen in the tables. It simply cannot be a coincidence that I moved here this year. Clearly my arrival from Cardiff has had an immediate and positive impact. There is no other credible explanation.


4 Responses to “The One True Ranking Narrative”

  1. As I noted recently, it is easy to scam impact factors, university rankings, and so on, simply by publishing hundreds of crackpot papers in bonus journals one edits oneself:

    “El Naschie’s practice of publishing a great number of articles in a journal of which he himself was the editor also came to public attention when it was identified as a crucial contributing factor for propelling Alexandria University into the top group of the Times Higher Education magazine’s university rankings. This evidence of such rankings being easily skewed has led to criticism of the methodology of university rankings in general.”

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    How have Irish brewers’ profits fared since you arrived?

  3. […] place your faith in rankings in general, try this. (Or, in a higher education context, try this, this, or this). Even, however, if we faithfully and naively take the GGGI data purely at face value (a […]

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