Dutch universities becoming more critical of international ranking systems

Dutch universities are taking a more critical attitude towards global university ranking systems. The Association of Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) said it will adopt policy advice from an expert group that has conducted research into the subject, who now believe that the manner in which these lists are drawn up is too one-sided.

The committee’s advice concerns rankings produced as a sort of league table. Universities are scored for their performance in the areas of research, teaching and impact with the high profile ranking lists, such as The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and the Shanghai Rankings.

However, according to the experts, they have not established solid criteria to measure this properly. For example, the number of scientific publications and citations is given too much weight, while simultaneously, too little attention is paid to different qualities that are important to science.

According to a review of the study by NRC, a “one-dimensional total score” cannot truly cover a university’s contribution to research, the quality of its teaching, awards and grants it has one, and its students’ success when entering the workforce. The weighting of these different attributes is both “arbitrary and debatable” in the separate rankings. Universities in the Netherlands are often critical of the ranking lists, but at the same time their marketing teams lean on them when promoting their programs. This reflects the need for a change in how the lists are perceived at the universities, and the importance politicians place on them.

“Universities are ambiguous with regard to university rankings; it is important to be able to determine our position among the world’s top, but in this way it does not do justice to the breadth of work that is happening at universities,” said UNL chair Pieter Duisenberg.

The universities will therefore use the rankings less often in internal evaluations. They also want to contribute to the development of alternatives, and the association will try to discourage the use of league tables by the government.

In addition, the Dutch universities will enter into discussions with the European university umbrella organization EUA and experts from Germany, France, Ireland, Poland and the United Kingdom to draw up a joint guideline.

“Global university rankings are often beauty contests with major shortcomings, in which apples are compared with pears,” said Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. He said he welcomes the fact that universities are moving away from a focus on these rankings.

“They don’t do justice to the different qualities that exist within academic education and research.”

Reporting by ANP and NL Times

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