Academic Ranking of World Universities

Special Foreword for ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects by Dr. Jan Sadlak

International rankings of universities [actually of all types of higher education establishments] become a permanent feature of modern higher education as well as other sectors of education and science. Without inappropriate modesty, publication in 2003 of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), commonly referred to as “Shanghai Rankings”, has marked ascendance of international rankings as an influential evaluative and mapping tool for providing comparative information on performance of universities and its activities. There is enough evidence that international rankings influence the policies of governments, funding organizations, media, and academia. Rectors, governing bodies, and academics see the position in rankings as confirmation of their achievements and/or indication for strategically relevant decisions.

While institutional rankings represent a principle object of national, regional and international rankings, it become evident that there are reasons for “subject and discipline related rankings”. Firstly, without diminishing importance of the organizing framework represented by the university, academic disciplines provide substance and context in which both teaching and research is carried out. Secondly, academic disciplines are important in determining an intellectual and scholarly identity of students and even more that of academics. Thirdly, and particularly relevant in the context of rankings, is an argument that there is hardly an institution which can claim to perform equally well in teaching and research and in all academic disciplines and study programs. Taking into consideration significant differences between institutional models of universities in various countries, the latter argument is particularly relevant in the context of international rankings.

Ranking organizations are well aware of this condition, therefore, a prevailing number of national and global rankings, in addition to institutional rankings, produce “subject rankings” as well as based on them rankings of specific study programmes. The Shanghai Rankings’s: Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2016 is a good example of the need for an inclusive approach to university rankings. This ranking deserves a particular attention as it brings about an important new methodological feature that of “significant awards” based on the IREG List of International Academic Awards. It is a well-founded initiative as there is ample evidence that academic awards, especially the ones with high prestige, often play a significant role in the performance evaluation of individuals and institutions. In a certain way, this can also be interpreted as response to accommodate reproaches that institutional rankings published under “Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)” uses a very limited number of awards that of the Nobel Prize and Fields Medal. It a good beginning that needs to be continued when subject rankings produced under “Shanghai Rankings” framework will cover not only engineering but also other academic disciplines.

Dr. Jan Sadlak
President, IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence