University rankings have an incredibly powerful position in the world – shaping standards, informing Government policy and bringing the world’s attention to emerging powers. Phil Baty, Rankings Editor at Times Higher Education, manages the world’s most prestigious university ranking resource, THE World University Rankings. The largest professional media outlet for teaching professionals, with over 4.9 million resources downloaded each week to help teachers do their jobs better, the THE works within the education community to serve a global community with data and news analysis.

First published in 2004, THE World University Rankings has become the benchmark for the world’s universities and colleges. The rankings are important for decision makers and policy formers. According to the IBP education survey, international ranking and reputation were the most important factors for students when choosing where to study, beating location, fee or course content. The prestige of a university is hugely important and, as such, it has become a geo-political indicator of a country’s progress.

THE prides itself on its transparency and it shared its methodology during an executive forum hosted by Blackboard in Ankara, Turkey. THE World University Rankings is committed to creating a benchmarking that is relevant and meaningful to a 21st century university and helps bring communities together.

THE World University Ranking uses thirteen performance indicators to rank each university, making it the most comprehensive benchmark in the world. Indicators are weighted in relation to their importance as a marker of the university’s standing on a world stage. Teaching itself makes up 15% of the total marks, with staff-to-student ratio, number of degrees awarded and staff income also measured.

The number of international students and international teaching talent is key, and it’s an area that’s close to Blackboard’s heart. Most important universities look to attract international students and faculty and THE believes that a diverse campus is something to celebrate. Referring to it as ‘hybrid vigour’, Phil Baty said that bringing people from different backgrounds and perspectives together to share knowledge is very important.

Whilst it’s difficult to measure innovation in the teaching and learning environment, THE does use simple ratios to measure the type of environment you might find yourself in as a student. PhD to Undergraduate ratios, spend per student and how a university leverages technology affect the ranking. They look at a university’s ability to translate understanding into real world experiences for the students, commercialising knowledge, having a social impact and contributing to society.

To measure the success of the research undertaken by any university, the Ranking team looks at income generated through research and the ability to produce and publish quality research in some of the world’s leading journals.
The most exciting performance indicators, according to Baty, are the citation scores – worth 30% in the ranking. This score demonstrates the dissemination of research, i.e. how much of a university’s research is being picked up and used, pushing boundaries and contributing to the overall understanding of a particular subject.

The adoption of technology can influence a university’s ranking, which Blackboard’s customers are acutely aware of. Although there are no direct indicators to capture the innovative use of technology at any university, this permeates every category. Providing students with a stimulating environment has a high impact on reputation. Blackboard provides tools that bring about widespread sharing and collaboration. And the ability to collaborate and share knowledge, locally and globally, will give universities an upper hand in the rankings.

This process and these performance indicators have made THE World University Rankings the most prestigious ranking in the world for higher education. The ranking is referenced in Government policies and is seen as a gold standard worldwide.

The results for 2014-2015, which came out in October, show a predictable presence at the top of the table by North American universities. There are 74 US universities in top 200. What’s exciting is the change that’s coming.

One of the great results this year was the success of Turkey with four institutions in the top 200. Middle East Technical University is number one in the region and 85th in the world. Others that are powering up the ranking include Singapore, Tokyo, Melbourne, Hong Kong and China.

If the changes are examined in more detail a shift in the balance is clear. Of the 74 universities from the US in the top 200, more are falling than rising. This decline presents an opportunity for change.

Turkey’s Middle East Technical University (METU), a recent customer of Blackboard, scores highly. With an excellent investment per staff member, a good student to staff ratio, 60% international students and all research papers with international reach, the university should be congratulated. The citation score is high (92.0) and research contribution to the Higgs boson programme has had an impact on the ranking. But more importantly, the funding for research and the introduction of competition for that funding has driven up the standard. It is an important international player that is performing well within a global context. In the BRIC Ranking report, due to be published on 3rd December 2014, Turkey will be the superstar.

THE World University Ranking website is undergoing changes itself. With more research being brought in-house and the ambition to deliver wider coverage and drill deeper into emerging economies.

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