This article is more than 7 years old

Another questionable university ranking

An update on Webometrics' university rankings. It's all about web presence, apparently.
This article is more than 7 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Back in 2009 I noted the arrival of Webometrics, a global ranking of universities based on their web presence.

At that time it featured around 4,000 institutions but has since grown to around 27,000 (which does seem now to be used by many as the reference point for the estimate of the total number of universities across the globe).

The ranking, which has a rather opaque methodology, says it is concerned primarily with promoting academic web presence:

Objectives and motivation

The original aim of the ranking is to promote academic web presence, supporting the Open Access initiatives for increasing significantly the transfer of scientific and cultural knowledge generated by the universities to the whole of society. In order to achieve this objective, the publication of rankings is one of the most powerful and successful tools for starting and consolidating the processes of change in the academia, increasing the scholars’ commitment and setting up badly needed long term strategies

The objective is not to evaluate websites, their design or usability or the popularity of their contents according to the number of visits or visitors. Web indicators are considered as proxies in the correct, comprehensive, deep evaluation of the university global performance, taking into account its activities and outputs and their relevance and impact.

At the end a reliable rank is only possible if the web presence is a trustworthy mirror of the university. In the second decade of the 21st century the web is key for the future of all the university missions, as it is already the most important scholarly communication tool, the future channel for the off-campus distance learning, the open forum for the community engagement and the universal showcase for attracting talent, funding and resources.

Philosophy and justification

Webometrics only publish a unique ranking of universities in every edition. The combination of indicators is the result of a careful investigation and it is not open to individual choosing by users without enough knowledge or expertise in this field. Other publishers provide series of very different rankings using exactly the same data in different fashions that is completely useless and very confusing.

Webometrics is a ranking of all the universities of the world, not only a few hundred institutions from the developed world. Of course, “World-class” universities usually are not small or very specialized institutions.

Webometrics is continuously researching for improving the ranking, changing or evolving the indicators and the weighting model to provide a better classification. It is a shame that a few rankings maintain stability between editions without correcting errors or tuning up indicators.

We intend to motivate both institutions and scholars to have a web presence that reflect accurately their activities. If the web performance of an institution is below the expected position according to their academic excellence, university authorities should reconsider their web policy, promoting substantial increases of the volume and quality of their electronic publications.

Candidate students should use additional criteria if they are trying to choose university. Webometrics ranking correlates well with quality of education provided and academic prestige, but other non-academic variables need to be taken into account.

You can find the details of the ranking methodology here but as they point out it does change all the time so every ranking is different. In the meantime here is the latest top 20 from the UK

rankingWorld RankUniversity
18University of Oxford
213University of Cambridge
320University College London
443University of Edinburgh
560Imperial College London
672University of Manchester
785King's College London
888University of Glasgow
993University of Leeds
10112University of Warwick
11129University of Nottingham
12145Queen Mary University of London
13152Bristol University
14155Newcastle University Newcastle upon Tyne
15163University of Southampton
16182University of Exeter
17197Durham University
18204University of York
19207London School of Economics and Political Science
20226University of Birmingham

Luckily you can do this for every other country too (check out Albania) but I must confess it really still isn’t clear to me how this works. Or indeed what the point is. Happy ranking!

One response to “Another questionable university ranking

  1. As with all ranking systems the methodology is applied to:

    1) ensure that the current perceived ranking is maintained (nobody will pay any attention to a ranking that does not have Oxbridge on top).
    2) change now and again so that everybody has something to talk about.

    After all these results are, in effect, a commercial product.

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