A new perspective from Webometrics World University Rankings


For UK students weary of the occasionally dubious methodology of the leading university rankings, there is a new name on the scene. The futuristically titled Cybermetrics Lab, a research group, hosts Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, which is also a part of the Spanish Research Council. The lab is one of over 100 research centres tied to the national council, and has developed its own in-house quantitative system for which to measure activity on the Internet. In accordance with the humility of the Cybermetrics Lab, the research group does not claim to attempt to supersede the bibliometric method in operation in existing university rankings, rather provide a complimentary methodology with which to boost the data.

The aim of the Webometrics Ranking is to support and encourage web activity, Open Access platforms, digitized publications, and other academic material. Using the same approach they have found a way to rank universities based not on unique hits or design layout but on the web visibility of global universities, which encompasses research activity, student response, and reputation.  Measurements of success and performance indicators could not be more divergent from that of other university rankings. Webometrics Ranking quantifies the amount of documents in a website, the numbers generated by Google Scholar database, the total number of pages sourced by the four major search engines, and unique external links received.

Webometrics Rankings has balanced the bias that usually falls in favor of existing university success stories. Web publication is a cheap and high-quality way of communicating research activity, and has the potential to reach global audiences and non-academic stakeholders. With an approach geared towards visibility, prospective UK students can get a fresh take on the impact and presence of their chosen study destination. This year’s UK top 10, with global positioning in brackets, is:

1 (17) University of Oxford

2 (18) University of Cambridge

3 (38) University College London

4 (51) University of Edinburgh

5 (112) Open University UK

6 (115) University of Glasgow

7 (119) University of Nottingham

8 (158) University of Manchester

9 (176) University of Leeds

10 (190) University of Warwick

This reveals far fewer British universities in the top 100 than appear in thoroughly bibliometric approaches like the NTU Rankings, and more populist approaches like the QS World Rankings. With only 4 institutions in the top 100, UK students have cause to question the failure of their universities to properly expose the fruits of their prestige and prodigious research output in online web activity. The appearance of the Open University at number 5 should surprise many used to the organization’s reputation as a pre-web distance learning method. But the data sets do not lie; the Open University is clearly doing more to make knowledge accessible to a wider audience.

One of the key issues Webometrics aims to address, and to which they address request alerts to bad practice, is that of schools and departments hosting domains different to that of their parent university. There is a chance that this goes some way to explain the poor performance of British universities, as the divergent site names decrease the online visibility of the university overall. Webometrics have effectively interpreted their own data to put pressure on university governance to ensure the centralisation of online information.