By João Perassolo and Matt Richards
Despite dropping out of the top 100 in last week’s QS World University Rankings, the University of Groningen (RUG) expects to maintain its position in the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking, to be released on the 21st of September.
“There’s no worry at all, in the THE Ranking we won’t drop. We will remain around the same position, probably improve a little”, says Jules van Rooij, the RUG’s policy expert on University Rankings.
The University currently sits in 74th place in the THE, which, alongside the QS and Shanghai surveys, is widely considered to be one of the most respected university classifications in the world, helping students and staff understand the research quality, student experience and reputation of higher institutions.
Despite showing confidence in the upcoming THE results, van Rooij believes that “methodologically, all rankings are rubbish. There’s no single ranking that would make it through the peer review process of serious academic journals”.
Nonetheless, he acknowledges their importance regarding the University’s reputation. “You can’t ignore the rankings”, he says. “We play the game seriously.”
For van Rooij, QS was the most reliable system until they changed their methodology in 2015. Since then RUG has dropped 23 places, 13 in the most recent publication. The University is now at position 113, and van Rooij indicates that the institution may even choose to stop participating in it. He argues that THE is better but that the Shanghai ranking, in which the University is 72nd, is the only one with a reliable methodology.
However, Ben Sowter, Head of Research at QS says Groningen’s slip in the rankings was mainly caused by a 60-place drop in ‘employee reputation’, one of the few categories in the QS methodology that van Rooij finds reliable.
Sowter is unfazed by more general criticisms of the ranking process. “It’s not unusual for rankings to receive criticisms,” he says. He also acknowledges that some are valid, noting the fact that QS doesn’t track teaching methods. Whilst admitting that the rankings are a “blunt instrument”, he argues that they have “catalysed the conversation about quality”.
Regarding Groningen’s threat to stop participating in the QS, he says “I suspect the real reason would be because they do less well, not because they distrust the methods. Any flaws in ours also exist in others.”
Times Higher Education previously worked with QS but ended its partnership in 2009. A spokeswoman for THE says that this was due to concerns around QS’s methodology, explaining that THE then developed its own ranking process. She defends the standard of THE’s results. “The general public, students, governments and institutions need to be absolutely confident in the quality of the data”.