Why Large Welfare States Should Use Different University Rankings

Rankings are very fashionable among politicians and policy experts. Universities are no exception to this. Yet they are very controversial, and there are endless fights about a ‘fair’ methodology. Recently, the German political science association even recommended its member institutions not to participate in the most important German ranking any longer

Indeed, loosers of these rankings often complain and maybe sometimes for good reasons. One option is not to produce rankings, but another option is to produce other rankings. I, for once, would love to see an international ranking of the average university in a country. I think this would make a big difference. The reason is that many countries, especially in Europe, but maybe also in Asia have social and political preferences for redistribution and the equalization of standards of living. These countries carefully avoid too much social and regional heterogeneity. Money flows from rich to poor individuals, from strong to weak regions. Under these circumstances, we should not expect universities to reach the top of international rankings. A fairer measure would be how good a university on average would do, compared to an average university in another country.

Currently there is not enough data to do this. But we can do some simple exercises with the available rankings. I choose the Times Higher Education Ranking for 2012-3 with detailed info for the top 200 and less detailed info for the next 200. From this I compute the country average of those universities listed. This gives a different view on who is top and who is not.

We all know that US universities dominate the top. But how do they do on average? If we use the detailed info for the top 200 we see that the US is not top any more but third (See table 1). China and Singapore rank 1 and 2 respectively. This seems exaggerated, and indeed it is. The problem is, we do not get information about the weakest universities, since they do not appear in the ranking. Stats people call this selection bias.

There is no way to avoid the problem, but we can at least extend the list to the top 400 universities (see table 2). If we look at the averages for the top 400 we see that the US is now fifth and Singapore is top (after all there are not that many universities in Singapore). China goes down the table. The Netherlands is now second. These are mock results. I am not saying that these are the real country rankings. But they illustrate the idea.

In more general we see that many European countries improve once we look at the averages of a larger number of universities. Countries that redistribute less go down in the ranking. Japan, Australia are extreme cases. There are important exceptions to this rule, such as Switzerland or Israel, not the most benevolent welfare state, but shooting up in the rankings. And yet, for countries in which the whole polity is built around avoiding excess inequality, it would be wise to focus on averages and not the champions.

 

 

Table 1: Countries Ranked by Average University’s Position in Top200

location avg. university rank country rank
China

49

1

Singapore

58

2

United States

86

3

Republic of Korea

90

4

Australia

93

5

Canada

93

6

Sweden

97

7

Japan

99

8

Switzerland

100

9

Netherlands

100

10

Hong Kong

102

11

Finland

109

12

United Kingdom

111

13

South Africa

113

14

France

116

15

Germany

122

16

Belgium

127

17

Denmark

132

18

Taiwan

134

19

Republic of Ireland

149

20

Brazil

158

21

New Zealand

161

22

Austria

162

23

Israel

163

24

 

 

 

 

Table 2 Countries Ranked by Average University’s Position in Top400

location avg. university rank country rank
Singapore

58

1

Netherlands

109

2

Switzerland

128

3

Republic of Korea

135

4

United States

155

5

Israel

163

6

Hong Kong

166

7

Sweden

182

8

United Kingdom

183

9

France

188

10

Canada

191

11

Germany

204

12

Belgium

207

13

Brazil

211

14

Denmark

212

15

Russian Federation

226

16

China

228

17

Japan

230

18

Australia

232

19

South Africa

248

20

Turkey

253

21

Norway

260

22

Iceland

263

23

Republic of Irel

265

24

Austria

269

25

Finland

280

26

New Zealand

282

27

Taiwan

291

28

India

292

29

Spain

299

30

Italy

315

31

Czech Republic

326

32

Greece

326

32

Iran

326

32

Saudi Arabia

326

32

Colombia

376

36

Estonia

376

36

Mexico

376

36

Poland

376

36

Portugal

376

36

Thailand

376

36

 

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One response to “Why Large Welfare States Should Use Different University Rankings

  1. Pingback: Why Top Universities Feed on Income Inequality | Polidigwerkschdaeddle

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