Wednesday, September 11, 2013

University Rankings

The buzz this week is how my employer, the University of Georgia, cracked the Top 20 list of public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. And rightly so. It's great news, looks good on a brochure, and UGA Prez Jere Morehead can slip it into Rotary Club speeches across the state.All well and good, but for fun let's look at a different list that also came out this week -- the QS World University Rankings.

First off, MIT is the top university in the world. Lemme say that again. In. The. World.

While being tops in the world looks even better on a brochure, I'm fairly certain our football team can take their football team. So where does

UGA's rank in the world? Glad you asked. Number 411. That doesn't work quite as well, screaming out "We're Number 411! We're Number 411!" at the top of your lungs in Sanford Stadium. Plus we're in a tie for that spot with a bunch of other places, a few of which I can find on a map.

Here's my point -- methodology matters.

In the U.S. News list, Princeton is the top unversity, but in the world list, the top spot belongs to MIT. Princeton finished 10th in the world. Lemme say that again: 10th. In. The. World. Not too shabby, but it does point out how two lists can differ because of methodology. The QS survey provides some details, the most "objective" of the lot being the quality of research citations, the number of citations per faculty member, and the H-index. As an aside, UGA's best world rank comes from citations per faculty (241st in the world) and the lowest in international faculty (760th). That's interesting in and of itself, admin folks. Something to think about.

The U.S. News list provides few interesting methodological details and for the good stuff you've gotta pony up some cash. Needless to say, we're talking about two somewhat different ways to measure stuff. Still, we all love a good list, even the lists we hate. A list organizes the world, gives us something to argue about, and makes for a quick story so journalists make it on time to Happy Hour.

Finally -- the QS world list is -- of course -- deeply flawed. How else could the University of Tennessee be ranked slightly ahead of us?

Tennessee? Puhlease.

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