I was reading the Economist over coffee this morning, and saw an add for a position at Imperial College along with the words “The #5 University in the World” (THES 2007). I was pretty sure I knew most of who was in the top 20 for world university rankings, and Imperial College is not even on the list. They come in at #23. Curious, I found the rankings according to THES which turned out to be the “Times Higher Education Supplement” published by one of the UK newspapers. These rankings are more than just a little bit fishy in terms of being UK centric. There are 19 UK institutions on the list overall, and three in the top 5 (Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial). In contrast, the mainstream list has 11 UK institutions, with Cambridge in the top 5 but Oxford at 10. Included on the THES list but absent from the mainstream list are such fine institutions as the “University of Warwick”. (Unscientific poll: people in the US, have you ever heard of it?) This one stuck out for me particularly, because an acquaintance of mine has just accepted a job there and I had no idea whether that was a good thing–I think I looked a bit blank and then tried to do the delayed “oh wow! Good for you!” thing. Oops. But come on, this is exactly the sort of grandstanding that makes it really difficult to take the English seriously at times. Complete and utter self-indulgence, these rankings. And this from people who have never heard of the University of Minnesota (33 on the mainstream list, shockingly absent from the THES one). Interestingly enough, the Economist itself quotes the mainstream numbers, not the THES ones. It has been suggested that UK Universities should not use the THES numbers because they are clearly flawed, and with that position I have to agree. Here’s a fantastic statistic to support the ridiculousness of the THES rankings AND the decline of UK higher education (from the article linked in the last sentence and by a professor at the above-mentioned Warwick):
Over the last 20 years, the US has been awarded 126 Nobel Prizes compared to Britain’s nine.