World’s Leading Experts on Academic Rankings Organized a Seminar with Russian UniversitiesApril 16, 2015
On 9-10 April 2015 Moscow played host to an international seminar entitled “Road to Academic Excellence: Russian Universities in Rankings by Subject”. The event was put together by Project 5-100and Perspektywy Education Foundation (Poland).
For two days, the top experts in the international arena put forth their knowledge of how best to promote Russian universities in international rankings. The main impetus was to give advice on participation and promotion in pursuit of a higher status among the most meaningful university rankings worldwide.
The seminar aroused considerable interest in the academic community that was on this occasion represented both by top management and employees of strategic development departments, project offices, analytical departments of universities, departments responsible for international promotion and positioning, and specialists in the sphere of scientometrics.
The meeting was set in action by Mikhail Antonov (Director of the Project Office), who reminded the participants of the fact that university ranking strategies and scientometric represent some of the key directives of Project 5-100. He added that rankings by specific subject areas provide the best opportunity for many Russian universities to display themselves to the world and also to compare themselves with world leaders in various areas of study.
Kazimierz Bilanow (Managing Director of the IREG Observatory on Academic Rankings and Excellence, Belgium) chaired a session devoted to “result achievement.” This initiative featured the following speakers: Waldermar Siwinski (President of Perspektywy Education Foundation), Alex Usher (Editor-in-Chief of Global Higher Education Strategy Monitor, Canada) and Dmitry Grishankov (General Director of the International Group of Rating Agencies Expert RA). The speakers outlined definitive classifications and the key parameters of rankings by subject; and, moreover, shared a series of valuable recommendations with the audience. Alex Usher also spoke at length about the methods of increasing academic publishing activity in Russian universities.
The program gathered speed with a session devoted to the new players in the system of academic rankings. The first presentation was made by Bob Morse (Director of Data Research, US News & World Report, USA). He focused on the methodology and the first results of the new global subject ranking prepared by his organization. Morse’s most persuasive ideas toward improvement of the positions of Russian universities included international cooperation when writing academic articles, publication of results in journals cited in the Web of Science, and the acquisition of a more formidable role in the international education market.
Gero Federkeil (Vice President of IREG, U-Multirank Coordinator and employee of the Center for Higher Education, Germany) spoke in detail about subject rankings from the point of view of U-Multirank. “U-Multirank reflects the real condition and not the reputation of a university”, Federkeil said in reference to the difference between new players and the “old timers” within the university ranking system. This expert spoke about new subject rankings which will appear next year and encouraged the Russian universities to cooperate with U-Multirank more closely.
The second day’s program opened with a session moderated by Alex Usher. The time was devoted to two global rankings-by-subject whose authors relied heavily on such indicators as number of publications and citations ‒ the Leiden University Ranking and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).
The session was opened by Paul Wouters (Professor of Scientometrics, Director of the Leiden University's Centre for Science and Technology Studies CWTS, the Netherlands). Professor Wouters spoke about the nuances of the bibliometric methodology and named both the journals which are considered by CWTS analysts and those which are largely ignored. He emphasized that, “The Leiden University Ranking only considers the publications which expand the horizons of modern science.”
The next speaker - Zhuolin Feng (Doctor of Education, Center for World-Class Universities (CWCU) from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China) ‒ spoke about the methodology of the ranking-by-subject published as a supplement to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). She analyzed the positions of Russian universities in subject clusters and spoke about plans to expand the ARWU rankings and to improve the tools used to compile them. Ms. Feng mentioned the success of the Chinese academic excellence programs and expressed certainty that Project 5-100 will help to promote the leading Russian universities in rankings-by-subject.
The seminar then continued with a special session, “Sources of data for subject rankings,” during which Philip Purnell of Thomson Reuters spoke about the normalization of data comprising the profiles of universities by various academic areas. “Thomson Reuters is making a lot of effort to improve the quality of data which will be used to assess Russian universities”, said Purnell. “We are also cooperating with leading Russian specialists in bibliometrics”. This cooperation has already born fruit: an original Russian-language publication with the title “Scientometric Guidelines: Science and Technology Development Indicators”.
Vadim Sobolev (representative of Elsevier) elaborated on this topic. He centered his attention on the experiments of Elsevier which had to do with the various metrics connected, among other things, to a subject-based assessment. “The analysis of scientific competencies in various narrow subject fields helps to identify true leaders, including Russian universities, in fairly unique disciplines”, Sobolev specified.
During the next section of the program, those present discussed in detail the similarities and differences of the methodologies of two competing ranking systems - Times Higher Education (THE) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). An understanding of these differences and similarities is extremely important when developing the strategy of a university in relation to rankings-by-subject. John O’Leary (member of the Management Board at QS) dwelt on the growing importance of rankings-by-subject. The British specialist referred to statistics, according to which the university’s position in such a ranking is most important for a prospective student looking for a future alma mater, rather than the position of the university in an institutional ranking. O’Leary also spoke in detail about the strengths and weaknesses of Russian universities from QS’s point of view.
The session was in effect concluded by Phil Baty (Editor-at-large of THE World University Rankings). Baty explained the nuances of THE methodology and pointed out the indicators which require special attention.
The results were then summed up by Richard Holmes (Professor Emeritus at Universiti Teknologi MARA (Malaysia)). He compared THE and QS rankings-by-subject and illustrated the dynamics of development of the two rankings and the challenges faced by their authors. According to Professor Holmes, each university should find its own preferred and most suitable ranking system, and thus, when working on its strategy toward achieving a high ranking, formulate and clearly articulate its specific competitive advantages.
The seminar drew to a close with a broad general discussion followed by a Q&A session during which time all in attendance could direct their questions to the world’s finest experts in the area of international ranking systems.