A quantitative approach to global academic rankings from CWUR
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A quantitative approach to global academic rankings from CWUR

A new annual University ranking performed by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is taking a quantitative approach to global academic ranking, and making a notable impression on the contested field of higher-education hierarchizing. CWUR aims to produce the only institutional assessment that places an emphasis on student-facing performance rather than the reputation of faculty, all the while cutting out the need for university-submitted reports and extensive surveys.

Methodologically, CWUR has found a noticeable gap in the ranking-field for measuring student academic quality, and in so responding have contributed a sound approach that tests the limits of current practice. Whereas most rankings strike a balance between research citations and reputation surveys, the work coming out of Jeddah displays an up-to-date concern with quantifying and measuring the standard of the student experience. As is true with the current trend for ‘happiness indicators’, student experience is a hard thing to fathom, let alone map. But the CWUR have managed to identify eight key performance indicators with which they have ranked the world’s top 1000 universities.

The majority of the data comes from quality of education, quality of faculty, and alumni employment, each of which comprises a quarter of the received data. In an innovative manner, the Saudi consultancy fixes its attention on academic awards and graduate employability, both of which are measured in relation to the size of the university. One noticeable drawback to the latter objective is CWUR gage alumni employment on the number of CEO positions occupied by former students, instantly handicapping countless quality institutions and playing into the mindset a business elite still blinded by the prestige of Ivy League and British institutions. The remaining 25% are comprised of standard indicators common to most other international rankings, except for the unorthodox allocation of a small percentage of the data to the number of international patents filed by faculty and alumni.

CWUR’s table tells students that the distribution of the top 1000 university institutions is closely aligned to the geopolitical influence the world’s two competing superpowers. Of the 1000 universities listed 229 were from the USA, 84 from China. Respected producers of the best and brightest followed closely behind with Japan providing 74 of the world’s top institutions, the UK 64 and Germany 55. Yet despite this global outlook and innovative approach the Top 10 is filled with many of the familiar suspects:

  • Harvard
  • Stanford
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Cambridge
  • Oxford
  • Columbia
  • Berkeley
  • Chicago
  • Princeton
  • Yale

Comparisons with previous CWUR rankings are tricky when taking into account that previous editions had a much smaller sample base; the 2013 report included only 100 universities. Despite reflecting the steady fall of Oxford University, the real insights should be sought outside of the top 10. CWUR has made a valuable contribution in decentralizing rankings from Eurocentricism, canonical prizes, and disciplinary prestige. As such the rankings are not searchable by discipline or department, only by country, continental Region, and geopolitical alignment (for example in the case of the BRICS category, which is predictably dominated by Russia and China). Emerging as a product of the recent trend to treat students as customers, CWUR’s study has the added benefit of giving less visible universities the chance to gain confidence on the global playing field. One such example is the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) which has proudly announced its CWUR scoring as the highest ranked university in Africa.