Turning the ranking tables on their head: how to improve your standingIn February 2009, the third International
Symposium on University Rankings was held in Leiden, the Netherlands.
University rankings were discussed from several perspectives: from the
position of the researcher or organization developing the rankings to
that of the university dean or provost using the rankings to improve
their university’s position.
Professor Anthony F.J. van Raan from the Centre for Science and
Technology Studies, Leiden University, gave a presentation on the
methods used by the various university-ranking systems around the
world. For instance, where The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES)
bases its analysis on 20% bibliometric input, Shanghai uses 80% and
National rankings often also take external inputs, such as average
rents for student accommodation in the relevant city, into account.
Gero Federkeil, from the Centre for Higher Education Development,
explained that some rankings are even bringing their successful alumni
into the picture in much the same way that the research community looks
at Nobel Prize Laureates. Having a high number of graduates go on to
become CEOs at major companies can also be an indicator of quality.
What do these rankings mean to a university?In many of the discussions, the speakers said that rankings should
not be used for resource allocation. It would be wonderful if they
could be used to predict, navigate and forecast, but this is not yet
possible. This is an area where further research and development are
Professor Luke Georghiou, University of Manchester, explained that
while universities do try to improve their ranking, it is less clear
how the rankings actually influence behavior.
Climbing up the rankingsOne country that has steadily increased its output and quality of
papers in recent years is Finland (see Figures 1 and 2). University
administrators are very interested to learn how this remarkable success
has been achieved.
Jamo Saarti, Library Director at Kuopio University, Finland, says
his university has improved its ranking by focusing on strategic
research and supporting this with funding. “Kuopio University has made
publishing papers in international and high-quality journals a clear
priority, and we have been using bibliometric tools to find out where
Indeed, analysis of recent articles from the university show that well-cited papers have been published in journals such as Annals of Internal Medicine, Cell, Nature, Nature Genetics, The Lancet and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
“The management at Kuopio University has used ranking lists as tools
in evaluation and we in the library have been very active in acquiring
the best possible e-journal collections and promoting the use of these
to our researchers,” explains Saarti.
He believes that this focus on high-quality publications, coupled
with international collaboration, which has been adopted throughout the
university, particularly within the natural sciences and (bio)health
sciences, has been key to their success. Figure 3 supports this view,
showing that citation levels for the university have been steadily
Looking at the rate of citations per subject further supports this
approach. Kuopio University’s extra focus on fields such as biological
sciences and medicine has paid off, as these were among the university’s
top-cited subjects in 2006 and 2007 (see Figure 4).
Tried and testedThe combination of the university’s strategy, research focus,
collaboration with library services and utilization of metrics to track
progress provides a very sensible approach to institute management and
one that is likely to reap benefits.
Indeed, many of the efforts described by Saarti are recognized as
key strategies for universities to push forward their research
productivity and quality.
Useful links:International Symposium on University Rankings
Turning the ranking tables on their head: how to improve your standing - Research Trends