University rankings need a rethink

Elizabeth Gadd:

Researchers often complain about the indicators that hiring and grant committees use to judge them. In the past ten years, initiatives such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment and the Leiden Manifesto have pushed universities to rethink how and when to use publications and citations to assess research and researchers.

The use of rankings to assess universities also needs a rethink. These league tables, produced by the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and the Times Higher Education World University Ranking (THE WUR) and others, determine eligibility for scholarships and other income, and sway where scholars decide to work and study. Governments devise policies and divert funds to help institutions in their countries claw up these rankings. Researchers at many institutions, such as mine, miss out on opportunities owing to their placing.

Two years ago, the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS), a collective of research-management organizations, invited me to chair a new working group on research evaluation with members from a dozen countries. From our first meeting, we were unanimous about our top concern: the need for fairer and more responsible university rankings. When we drew up criteria on what those would entail and rated the rankers, their shortcomings became clear.