Rankings: where to start?
MAASTRICHT. Rankings – some see them as a necessary evil, others as a helpful way to sift the wheat from the chaff. But where to start? What exactly is the value of the Times Higher Education ranking, which recently published the list for each discipline, for those who want to know what study programme to choose? Or the Keuzegids? And why do the assessments differ so much at times?
Imagine you are a school-leaver and interested in psychology. The Times Higher Education presented a ranking of universities by discipline earlier this month. So you search ‘psychology’ and the Netherlands. It soon becomes clear that you should go to the University of Amsterdam; the University of Amsterdam is in twelfth place. In the world! But before you pack your bags, you decide to check the Keuzegids. And what does that show? The Psychology programme at UvA received a mere 5.6. A pass, but only just, enough for tenth place (of a total of eleven) on the list.
Comparing rankings is difficult, says Hans Ouwersloot, policy adviser for rankings. “You need a lot of technical knowledge about how the lists are compiled. They base themselves on different data and use different methods. THE bases itself on a lot of different sections of a particular discipline, such as research and education, but also internationalisation. The Keuzegids bases itself for 80 per cent on student items. That is why you can get these types of differences.”
When it comes to education, for example, THE looks at the number of lecturers to the number of students, but not at issues such as study success or student satisfaction. “Because you can’t compare that internationally,” says Ouwersloot. “Here in the Netherlands, we feel that a study programme is very successful when lots of students graduate within three or four years, so they can extend the official period by one year. In other countries, they want them to graduate within the official period. A few years ago, the Times tried adding a student survey, but there was insufficient response to be able to use the data. You could say that THE says more about what is put into education and the Keuzegids more about what you get from it. You hope that this is somehow linked to each other, except that this is not always the case.”
Something you also have to keep in mind, says Ouwersloot, is that THE is aimed at a different audience than Keuzegids. “The latter is really meant for Dutch school-leavers, usually a school-leaver looking for a bachelor’s programme. The Times is in essence a research ranking; the research component counts for two thirds in the assessment. Therefore, it will mainly be used by PhD students and researchers.”
This doesn’t mean that you should base your choice completely on a ranking. “There are snags and catches to every ranking, but you have to start somewhere. Researchers who also want to collaborate with another university, often use THE as well. It gives you an overview of the institutes throughout the world. The fact that they even participate in the ranking gives an impression of how serious they take the international field. The actual choice is a complicated process, this is the first step.”