By Ben Sowter
The QS World University Rankings® were recently published for the eighth consecutive year, and have become the world’s most widely referenced source of comparative information on global universities. In 2011, the world rankings featured 712 universities – a record to date, but still only a fraction of the some 20,000 higher education institutions in the world as estimated at the recent UNESCO forum on global rankings.
Following the launch of the QS Asian University Rankings™ in 2009, 2011 has seen the launch of the QS World University Rankings® by Subject, and QS Stars – a new broad-based rating system – both designed to provide more comparative intelligence on a greater number of universities.
QS recognizes that while rankings have become an increasingly important influence on the decisions facing prospective international students, they have their limitations. A single methodology cannot be adequately used to compare all universities of all types in all regions. This year’s subject rankings aim to reveal global excellence in individual disciplines – much of which is overlooked by the generalist approach taken in the world rankings. This work will be extended further in future. QS Stars reveals excellence not only in the round but in each of eight key areas; and the regional rankings in Asia and now Latin America are designed to drill down deeper beneath the fabric of higher education in some of the fastest-moving regions of the world.
QS University Rankings – Latin America™ represent an achievement which eight years ago would have been unthinkable. In 2004, when all this began, Latin America was among the most challenging regions in the world from which to identify appropriate contacts and gather the necessary data. Today things are different. Universities in the region have been very welcoming and extremely cooperative in helping us compile these results and the team at QS has been augmented with the necessary language capabilities to communicate effectively in the region.
The methodology has been adapted to the needs of the region, following an extensive survey of academics and institution leaders in the region conducted early this year to ascertain the factors considered most indicative of institutional strength. The “Staff with PhD” indicator was cited as the most important indicator and has been included here for the first time in any QS evaluation.
Other concepts considered important in the survey included inclusion, student satisfaction, and the quality, number, and depth of relationships with universities outside the region. All of these feature in plans for the future and, in many cases, data has already begun to be collected.
A special acknowledgement must go to Cybermetrics Labs in Madrid, publishers of the well-known and extremely inclusive “Ranking Web of World Universities” (www.webometrics.info) whose data has been drawn upon to form 10% of these new rankings. While web metrics have not been taken into account before due to the heavy advantage offered to institutions operating principally in English, they form a very interesting component in a region where no country or institution has an innate advantage in this respect. The QS indicator has been compiled by dropping the “Scholar” component from the main Webometrics score (due to its overlap with our analysis of Scopus) and up-scaling the other components to compensate. Much like other evaluations, these results will evolve in their early years as the institutions involved become familiar with the system and the data requested. But these inaugural results already reveal a fascinating picture of an increasingly important region on the higher education map.