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More than one No. 1 – ranking universities discipline by discipline
13 January 2012

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The EU is preparing a new global list of institutions of higher learning that will be “more open, more transparent, more useful”.

Competition is usually good. But when many of Europe’s 4,000 universities try to be tops in all academic areas, the overall quality at most of them suffers. As a consequence, too few European institutions are recognised as world class in global university rankings (see Futures Magazine, issue 9 – December 2011, page 22).

Of course, a handful of European universities excel across their areas. Among them: Cambridge and Oxford, which are research-intensive universities. But hundreds of universities do well in other fields, say teaching or vocational training.

To broaden the scope of existing rankings, the European Commission is creating U-Multirank, a listing that would eventually include universities worldwide, ordering them by the quality of their particular disciplines rather than the overall institutions. The list would consider a variety of performance measures, from teacher quality to graduate employability. U-Multirank would encourage each university to concentrate on what it does well, help policy-makers support centres of excellence, and aid students in making the choice of which university to attend. 

           Oxford University: Always among the top class.

The idea is for students to select criteria that are relevant to them and then rank the institutions according to their personal priorities. “We’re coming up with a unique system that puts the student at the heart of the ranking,” said Dennis Abbott, spokesman for the European Commissioner for Education, Androulla Vassiliou. “It will not just state that a particular institution is number 10 or number 50. It will be more open, more transparent and more useful.”

U-Multirank, whose name emphasises that it is user-driven, should be available by mid-2013.

This article was originally published in the 9th issue of the Futures Magazine.

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