Europe’s “best universities”

CHE Excellence Ranking 2009

A league table that isn’t actually a league table: via “European best universities” – ZEIT ONLINE

The CHE Excellence Ranking compares a selected group of European universities for each subject. Find the most interesting places in Europe for doing your master’s or doctoral degree!

For seven different subjects a group of 20 to 60 European universities were selected by their results in research and (for Political Science, Economics and Psychology) internationalisation indicators. This selected group of universities is called the “Excellence Group” of the respective subject. For this Excellence Groups, an institutional survey as well as a student survey was conducted. For outstanding results in any one indicator, a “star” was awarded.

Interesting approach this. Not sure that it will take off but it is a serious effort and worth watching. Also. gratifying that the University of Nottingham appears in both the Economics and Politics lists but unfortunately they seem to have failed to notice psychology.

“Old-fashioned universities letting students down”

Moaners not Maoists

According to the Guardian, David Willetts has said that old-fashioned universities are letting students down:

Universities are badly failing students with unfit teaching and old-fashioned methods and will have to radically modernise lectures and facilities if they want to raise fees, according to the Conservatives’ spokesman on higher education. David Willetts told the Guardian that vice-chancellors are not prepared for the pressure their students will put them under if fees go up and that many have failed to prove students are getting value for money.

It is really not at all clear from the article what “old-fashioned” methods large numbers of universities are employing…

“There are still too many horror stories I hear when I’m talking to students ‑ issues like academic work not coming back, not being able to contact tutors,” he said.

And such anecdotes, however horrific late return of work might seem, are really not a solid base for policy development.

“It’s amazing the change in this generation of students. The issue is not fomenting Maoist revolutionaries somewhere. They are much more likely to complain about how crowded seminars are or how slow the response to their dissertation was. Those are the kind of things that young people register.” Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently pay up to £3,225 a year in tuition fees but many universities want a rise in the cap or even its removal. Willetts signalled the Tories were prepared to look at increasing fees, but with strings attached.

It will be interesting to see what these conditions for a fee rise turn out to be.

Special Collections as Laboratories

Special Collections as Laboratories

Interesting post from the Chronicle of Higher Education

It’s a report on a recent forum which looked at the opportunities for using special collections to teach students about the possibilities and principles of research: “Such collections should be put to use as laboratories where students work hands-on with primary documents, incorporate them into original research projects, and even publish the results in institutional repositories.”

Panelists at a session on “An Age of Discovery: Special Collections in the Digital Age” — part of the Coalition for Networked Information’s fall forum, held in tandem with the membership meeting of the Association of Research Libraries — laid out case studies of what can happen when you turn undergraduates loose in special collections. Barbara Rockenbach, director of undergraduate and library education at Yale University Library, described how students in an urban-studies course, “The Mediated City,” created annotated digital city guides as part of their class work. In a history class, “Otherwise Engaged: Intellectuals, Politics, Education,” undergraduates created online narrative exhibits that illustrated specific moments in time.

“What we discovered is that you set high expectations, and the students tend to live up to them,” Ms. Rockenbach said. She also pointed out that it’s easier to justify the resources your special collections eat up if those collections aren’t just sitting there gathering dust.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, students take part in the Ethnography of the University Initiative, creating research projects that investigate campus history and culture. Sarah L. Shreeves, coordinator of Illinois’s Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship (Ideals), talked about how the student ethnographers work through the full circle of scholarly communication, beginning with original research and ending with the chance to deposit their work in the Ideals institutional repository alongside the work of other students and faculty members.

Interesting ideas.

Economist MBA league table

Full-time MBA ranking from The Economist.

The latest FT MBA league table has been published and it includes very strong representation from European Schools:

1 IESE Business School – University of Navarra Spain
2 IMD – International Institute for Management Development Switzerland
3 California at Berkeley, University of – Haas School of Business United States
4 Chicago, University of – Booth School of Business United States
5 Harvard Business School United States
6 Dartmouth College – Tuck School of Business United States
7 Stanford Graduate School of Business United States
8 London Business School Britain
9 Pennsylvania, University of – Wharton School United States
10 Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School Belgium
11 Cambridge, University of – Judge Business School Britain
12 York University – Schulich School of Business Canada
13 New York University – Leonard N Stern School of Business United States
14 HEC School of Management, Paris France
15 Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management United States
16 IE Business School Spain
17 Melbourne Business School – University of Melbourne Australia
18 Cranfield School of Management Britain
19 Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Sloan School of Management United States
20 Columbia Business School United States
21 Henley Business School Britain
22 Warwick Business School Britain
23 INSEAD France / Singapore
24 Virginia, University of – Darden Graduate School of Business Administration United States
25 Michigan, University of – Stephen M. Ross School of Business United States

The Economist methodology is a bit different from the mainstream league tables and includes a significant student and graduate survey component:

Business school rankings are not perfect. What makes a good MBA programme will vary for each individual. Our ethos is to look at business schools from the students’ perspective. Indeed, over the past 21 years we have asked close to 150,000 of them why they decided to sign up for an MBA. It is their responses that inform the criteria we measure and the weightings we apply.

Over that time, four factors have consistently emerged: to open new career opportunities and/or further current career; personal development and educational experience; to increase salary; the potential to network. The Economist ranks full-time programmes on their ability to deliver to students the things that they themselves cite as most important. It weights each element according to the average importance given to it by students surveyed over the past five years.

Robert Southey on university life

Letters of Robert Southey

Interesting news item about the publication of the letters of Robert Southey, one time poet laureate.

Letter 60 includes a couple of interesting observations on higher education:

I know nothing so unpleasant as leaving the friends we love & — yet such is the state of society that life is hardly any thing than continual parting. you are an exception — but observe the general tenour of life — school & college occupy what ought to be <the> happiest ages — then comes business & perhaps the opportunity of happiness when the relish is gone. Universities might certainly be made useful institutions but at present they are pernicious to individuals & to the nation at large. the morality of Oxford you know how to estimate but with respect to the polishing which I know I want but fear I shall never attain — is it to be found there? steel receives its last polish from a womans hand I believe — & my rugged ore requires the same management — this I shall never meet with. three years must be spent in studies which lead to nothing — & the remainder of my life in forming theories of happiness which I never can practises. Edmund Seward says very truly that a man who indulges himself in literature merely for self amusement deserves no more respect from the public than the glutton or the voluptuary. this is very true but selfishness is deeply implanted in the human heart so deeply that even the strong hand of Philosophy cannot root it up. you & I may indulge ourselves in theories of reforming the taste & morals of a corrupt age & perhaps our theories are not wholly visionary — but is our disinterestedness such as might prompt us to this against our inclination?

And further critique:

To me the radical defect of the universities appears this — the association of men with only men. the total absence of that sex from whom only we can receive the last polish. the intercourse in this country is much too distant & of course Man becomes more brutal when the tablecloth is removed the women retire with the dishes they have dressed…

On the OpenCourseWare Consortium

Interesting development: the OpenCourseWare Consortium

It’s not entirely unique but the approach is a bit different and extremely worthwhile:

An OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The mission of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware.


The goals of the Consortium are expressed as follows:

* Extend the reach and impact of opencourseware by encouraging the adoption and adaptation of open educational materials around the world.
* Foster the development of additional opencourseware projects.
* Ensure the long-term sustainability of opencourseware projects by identifying ways to improve effectiveness and reduce costs.

The Consortium is also referenced in a recent THE article on this topic. The University of Nottingham is one of a few UK members. Let’s hope it thrives.

(With thanks to John Horton for alerting me to this one.)

Most Cited Institutions: 1999-2009

A league table of the most cited institutions 1999-2009 has been published by

The list is dominated by US universities with 14 entries and only three UK entries and one each from Germany, Canada and Japan. Harvard is, inevitably, top:

These institutions all produce a high volume of papers resulting in extremely high citation counts—the top six institutions have over one million citations to their credit, and cite counts for the remaining 14 are all well over a half-million.

Perhaps not that startling a table but nevertheless interesting

14 UCL
17 MIT

The listing of the top 20 institutions which attracted the highest total citations to their papers published in Thomson Reuters-indexed journals over all 22 fields in the database. These institutions are the top 20 out of a pool of 4,050 institutions comprising the top 1% ranked by total citation count over all fields.

More details are on the website.

Push UK university league table

Apologies for the delay…

Old news really but earlier this year Push published a league table based on some rather idiosyncratic criteria:

  • Financial indicators
  • Job prospects
  • Academic indicators
  • Ease of entry and demand
  • Student life indicators


The results are a little surprising perhaps but certainly a bit different from the mainstream newspaper tables:

1 Lampeter, University of Wales
2 Heythrop College, University of London
3 Stirling University
4 School of Pharmacy, Uni of London
5 University of St Andrews
6 St George’s, University of London
7 Harper Adams University College
8 Bishop Grosseteste University College
9 King’s College, London
10 University of Edinburgh
11 University of Bristol
12 University of Cambridge
13 University of Nottingham
14 Leicester University
15 University of East Anglia
16 University of Manchester
17 University of Hull
18 University of York
19 Swansea University
20 LSE

UK universities in 2009 THE world league table

Follow up to earlier post on the latest THE world league table.

There are 18 UK universities in the latest THE/QS world university league table with most improving their positions and Leeds being a new entry:

2 Cambridge
5= Oxford
5= Imperial
20= Edinburgh
23 King’s
26 Manchester
34 Bristol
58 Warwick
66 Birmingham
67= LSE
70 York
79 Glasgow
82 Sheffield
87= St Andrews
91 University of Nottingham
95= Southampton
99 Leeds

General take on this in THE and the Guardian is that the US is slipping, UK is holding its own (apart from Oxford) but Asian universities are catching up fast.

Latest 2009 world university league table rankings from THE

Latest 2009 world rankings from THE and QS


The University world rankings have been published in THE. The top 25 is as follows:

1 Harvard University (1 in 2008)
2 University of Cambridge (3)
3 Yale University (2)
4 University College London (7)
5= Imperial College London (6)
5= University of Oxford (4)
7 University of Chicago (8)
8 Princeton University (12)
9 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (9)
10 California Institute of Technology (5)
11 Columbia University (10)
12 University of Pennsylvania (11)
13 Johns Hopkins University (13=)
14 Duke University (13=)
15 Cornell University (15)
16 Stanford University (17)
17 Australian National University (16)
18 McGill University (20)
19 University of Michigan (18)
20= Eth Zurich (24)
20= University of Edinburgh (23)
22 University of Tokyo (19)
23 King’s College London (22)
24 University of Hong Kong (26)
25 Kyoto University (25)

The full tables, including subject rankings, should be available here.

The key points noted about the top 100:

* A dramatic fall in the number of North American universities in the top 100, from 42 in 2008 to 36 in 2009, reflects the growing presence and impact of Asian and European institutions on the world higher education stage. Of these, McGill was the highest ranked Canadian University, up two places at 18th.
* There are 39 European universities in the top 100, up from 36 in 2008. ETH Zurich is the top ranked continental European university at 20th place.
* The number of Asian universities in the top 100 also increased – from 14 to 16 institutions. The University of Tokyo, at 22nd, is the highest ranked Asian university, ahead of the University of Hong Kong at 24th

Princeton curbing grade inflation

Princeton has been tackling grade inflation

According to a news article from the University the proportion of A grades awarded has fallen from 47.9% in 2002-03 to 39.7% in 2008-09 following the introduction of a new grading policy:

The policy, adopted by the faculty in April 2004 to curb grade inflation across the University, sets an institution-wide expectation for the percentage of grades in the A range and provides clear guidelines on the meaning of letter grades. Grades have been coming down steadily since the policy was established.


“These results confirm once again that with clear intent and concerted effort, a university faculty can bring down the inflated grades that — left uncontrolled — devalue the educational achievements of American college students,” the committee’s statement said. “The Princeton faculty continues to make successful progress in its determined effort to restore educational content and meaning to the letter grades earned by the highest-achieving students in the United States.”

Interesting development this and shows what can be achieved with what sounds like a sensible and measured approach to tackling grade inflation.

Ig Nobel awards

This year’s Ig Nobel awards

Report in the Guardian about this year’s Ig Nobel awards. A couple are rather good:

Veterinary medicine prize
Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson at Newcastle University’s school of agriculture share the award for the groundbreaking discovery that giving cows names such as Daisy increases their milk yield. “It’s the highlight of my career,” said Douglas. “The work amused the public, but it addressed a serious issue about the welfare of animals and points to an easy way to improve yields by reducing stress in cattle.”

Mathematics prize
Awarded to Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple way of dealing with a wide range of numbers. Gono ordered his bank to print notes with denominations ranging from one cent to one hundred trillion dollars.

The one about police in Ireland misreading Polish driving licences must be a joke though. Fuller details and references are on the improbable research site.

‘Radical change’ is needed to reassure public on standards says THE

Follow up to earlier post on this topic.

According to Times Higher Education: “‘Radical change’ is needed to reassure public on standards”.

External examiners would be interviewed by inspection teams and universities would give a clear indication of the number of hours they expect students to study under plans to boost public confidence in the quality of higher education. A new “public-facing” role for the Quality Assurance Agency and an independent channel for external examiners to report concerns are also among the wide-ranging proposals published in a report to the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 1 October.

Hefce’s Teaching, Quality and the Student Experience sub-committee, chaired by Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, was set up to investigate concerns about standards raised last year. Its key message is that while there is “no systemic failure” in the sector, allegations of poor quality pose a serious risk to its reputation, and “radical change” is required in the way that information about quality and standards is communicated.

It is important to stress that the ‘radical change’ here relates to the communication of information, not to the wider issues about the assurance of standards and quality (and to note that the word ‘radical’ appears only once in the report, in the foreword). Articulating arrangements for the assurance of academic standards in a clear and accessible way is notoriously difficult – as the IUSS select committee discovered when talking to the VCs from Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities.

External Examiner review (and quality and standards)

Universities UK is to undertake a review of external examining

A press release from Universities UK gives some background to the recently announced review of external examiners:

In his keynote speech at the Universities UK Annual Conference, President Professor Steve Smith announced that UUK, together with GuildHE and in collaboration with agencies such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA), would lead a UK-wide review of external examiner arrangements. This review will seek to ensure that the system remains robust, recommending any improvements uniuk240px
which would continue to support the comparability of academic standards and meet future challenges.

The Group, which will be chaired by a Vice-Chancellor (to be announced) and include representatives from across the sector, will address various issues, including:

  • The need to develop Terms of Reference for the role, to support consistency
  • Reinforcing the specific role of external examiners in ensuring appropriate and comparable standards
  • Analysing the level of support given by institutions to external examining, both financial and professional
  • Current and future challenges and changing practice (such as modularisation) and their implications for external examining
  • Comparing the UK system with international practice

After 12 months, the Group will produce a report, highlighting the immediate short-term improvements, as well as longer term challenges and how these should be addressed.

Meanwhile, HEFCE has just announced the outcome of a study on quality and standards which has been picked up by the BBC. Its recommendations include:

  • a review is needed of publicly available information provided by higher education institutions (HEIs) to meet the needs of students, parents, advisers and professionals
  • a complete review of the external examiner system should be undertaken
  • the degree classification system should be improved so that it better reflects student achievement.

Looks like there will be a bit more work then beyond external examiners but these do not seem to be hugely challenging tasks (indeed they have been on the agenda for some time) and reflect the conclusions of the HEFCE report that “There is no systemic failure in quality and standards in English higher education (HE), but there are issues needing to be addressed”.

This UUK external examiner review, supported by the HEFCE study, represents a speedy response to the recent (truly dreadful) report of the IUSS Select Committee. The IUSS report recommends the implementation of one of the 1997 Dearing recommendations, rejected at the time, on the creation of a national system of external examiners. It is to be hoped that the UUK review arrives at something sensible. (For anyone with a longish memory on these things it feels a bit like 1994-95 again and the Graduate Standards Programme and its reviews of external examining.)