With the release of this year’s Emerging Europe and Central Asia (EECA) University Rankings, we sat down with Dasha Karzunina, International Research Liaison at QS, to find out more about what makes these rankings so interesting and why they are important.
Why are these rankings important?
“We have seen really good development in the region, as there has been a lot of investment in higher education and the standard is definitely going up. Universities are collaborating more with other world class institutions, and all of that means that they deserve to be noticed in the rankings. As far as I’m aware there’s no other rankings company that compiles rankings for the EECA region, the rankings for Emerging Europe and Central Asia.
A significant proportion of the universities featured in these rankings won’t appear in other international rankings. Of the 150 universities ranked, about half won’t have appeared in the world university rankings, so this is a really new market and that’s why these rankings are a little more susceptible to change at the moment. There are some universities that are only just becoming more willing to provide data than they did last year.”
What are some of the obstacles that universities in the EECA region have faced in becoming more internationally recognised?
“When you look at many of the countries in the EECA region, many of them are Post-Soviet states/countries, and that influence is still felt to some degree. More and more universities are becoming more aligned with the European higher education system, but some of the Soviet characteristics still prevail. This means that while they have a lot of higher education institutions and higher education is a real priority for the region, the Soviet system isn’t particularly international. The system tends to favour experience and so universities tend to have a lot of older professors that may not necessarily teach in English. While they may be really good at research, it’s often not published in English either. They tend to struggle to engage internationally as a lot of them don’t speak English, so that’s a real challenge for the region at the moment.”
What significant changes has the region seen?
“Russia has recently introduced the 5-100 program, so they’ve been really focused on getting their higher education institutions featured in the World University Rankings. But it’s not just Russia, if you look at the Baltic countries – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – they’re really improving their higher education standards and are becoming more international. They’re all engaging more and learning a lot from each other.”
What were some of the biggest challenges of creating these university rankings?
“Probably the biggest challenge is that many of these universities just don’t know about the QS University Rankings and many of them are not particularly outward facing yet. If you think about countries like Macedonia, Bosnia, Turkestan, Tajikistan, they have not heard of QS per se. Trying to get in touch with them and explain that it’s really important that they send us their data, when they don’t know us or why it would be important, is often a big challenge.
Finding an English-speaking staff member to talk to is another challenge, obviously making it that much more difficult to collect the data that we need. Luckily a lot of the countries do speak Russian, so that really helps because we have staff (like me) that speak Russian, and some of the other languages used in the region.”
Were there any major changes to the methodology?
“This year we’ve introduced the change of looking at the last five years of survey responses instead of three. For example, for the academic and employer reputation we used to look at the last three years and if institutions have been active in that time. We received a lot of feedback to say that often it takes time for things to get noticed, so even if they started five years ago you may only start to notice the results now. But either way, the point was that we should look at more years of engagement. We’re now looking at the five-year span of those surveys, which has had a positive impact on the results for the EECA universities.
In regional rankings – all of them with no exception – we measure papers and citations differently to the World University Rankings. In the QS World University Rankings®, we measure citations per faculty and we don’t have a separate measure for papers. However, in this region in particular, as there’s so little research that is published in English, this method can be quite limiting. So we break it down into looking at papers per faculty and then citations per paper. This is meant to reward universities for their productivity, even if their papers are not particularly popular internationally, at least they’re publishing in English and they could be picked up by Scopus, which we use to measure papers and citations.
One of the indicators that we have in the EECA rankings, which we don’t have in the QS World University Rankings®, is ‘Staff with a PhD’. This is here to assess the level of qualifications that the teachers at these universities have, and while some institutions require a PhD to teach, others don’t – but there is still a much higher proportion of those that have a PhD to those that don’t.”
Which countries have done especially well in this year’s university rankings?
“Of the 30 countries we considered for these rankings, 20 have actually featured in the top 150, whereas last year we had 18 in the top 100, so it’s slow but steady progress for the smaller countries in the region. Russia has featured heavily in these rankings, for the reasons we’ve previously discussed, but we’ve seen several entries from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland too. These countries all have a good level of English and place an importance on research and their brand that helps their rankings.
Kazakhstan is also investing significantly into their higher education system and their top university is actually ranked near the top 300 in the world. Finally we have Turkey, who were our hosts at the launch of these rankings. They are excellent at research which is an important factor, they get involved internationally, and they present themselves well at conferences, which has a positive impact on their academic and employer reputation.”