The EU Launches a New University Ranking System

by Luis Ritto*

As mentioned in one of my previous articles, with the establishment of the Bologna System in Europe a new era in Higher Education started in this continent with the three following main objectives: the introduction of a three cycle system of studies (bachelor/master/doctorate), quality assurance and the smooth recognition procedures among Universities (with the aim to establish a system of credits and adopt a system of easily readable and comparable degrees). The Bologna Process has put thus in motion a series of reforms needed to make European Higher Education studies more compatible and comparable, more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for students and scholars from other continents. This system was needed to match in Europe the performance of the best performing systems in the world.

The Bologna System was followed by an effort on the part of Higher Education Schools to improve the quality of University studies in Europe. However, when the European Union tried to examine the work done by institutions in Europe and how they rank in terms of quality with Universities from other parts of the world, it was surprised to see that the ranking system used so far was not appropriate for this type of exercise!

In fact, it was found out that the current ranking system, based on the so-called Shanghai Module and the “Times Higher Education Magazine” was not partial and focused too much on the American University System and on research excellence! As a result, the European Commission commissioned in 2009 a study by an independent consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education in Germany and the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies in the Netherlands together with the Centre for Science and Technology at Leiden University, the information professionals “Elsevier”, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the software firm “Folge3” with the aim to came forward with a new ranking system to be used in Europe. The consortium, after working with more than 150 national ranking partners and stakeholder organizations representing students, Universities and business to ensure completeness and accuracy published a report in 2011 with new measurable criteria and data, which was approved by the EC and will be put in place in the future. The new system will rank Universities and other higher education schools according to a broader range of factors, in five separate areas: reputation for research; quality of teaching and learning; international orientation; success in knowledge transfer; and contribution to regional economic growth.

Besides, the new ranking, which will be impartial, has a multi-dimensional approach (that will be called “U-Multirank”) that will make it suitable for any University or College seeking feedback on its performance. And individual users will also be able to obtain a personalised ranking reflecting their particular needs: this will allow them to obtain information on the institutions or disciplines which most interest them and to weight the criteria according to their own preferences.

In addition to providing an authoritative ranking comparing higher education institutions, U-Multirank will also rate Universities in four specific subject areas: business studies; mechanical engineering; electrical engineering and physics. This list of disciplines will be gradually expanded in future years.

After obtaining funding for the new system, the European Commission officially launched it on 30th January 2013 in Dublin, as we are at present under the Irish Presidency of the European Union. The U-Multirank will receive a total of € 2 million from EC education funds and the consortium working on the new system has promised to work with existing national ranking agencies to avoid asking the same questions to Universities more than once. The consortium will be transformed in the future into an independent ranking agency with its own funding system and autonomy.

Speaking recently on this issue, Jordi Curell, the EC Director for Higher Education, said that the U-Multirank system “has intrinsic value because it will provide an evidence-based measure of the performance of European Universities”. And he added: “Rankings which are carefully thought out are the only transparency tools which can give a comparative picture of higher education institutions at national, European and global level”.

According to Mr. Curell, the U-Multirank system “will be international in scope”. And he added: “This tool should not and will not be confined to EU countries and institutions, since higher education is today a global issue”.

The U-Multirank system has received wide approval and praise from Universities throughout Europe, with the exception of UK Universities which think that the “Times Higher Education Magazine” publishes a good ranking system of World Universities in cooperation with Thomson Reuters, a system therefore that does not need competition and challenge.

*About the author:

Dr. Luis Ritto is the former EU Ambassador to the Holy See and the Order of Malta and former EU Permanent Representative to the United Nations Organisations, ISPD Emeritus Professor and expert on diplomacy, diplomatic protocol and world affairs.