BRUSSELS—The European Commission has launched an online tool to rate universities worldwide. The new system, called U-Multirank, provides a more sophisticated alternative to cruder rankings by letting users select rating criteria out of 30 indicators in five areas: research, teaching, regional engagement, knowledge transfer, and international orientation. European universities, which tend to fare poorly in existing rankings, score better on some of these criteria.
Funded by the European Union, U-Multirank is presented as a departure from oft-criticized global rankings. Critics say that these charts—such as the Shanghai ranking and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings—rely on inadequate indicators and meaningless aggregated scores.
“We are not producing league tables. We don't think it is worthwhile. … We don't even think it can be done methodologically and statistically in the right way,” said Frans van Vught, one of U-Multirank's project leaders, at a launch event here yesterday.
Bernard Rentier, rector of the University of Liège in Belgium and a fierce critic of existing rankings, says he is pleased with the first results of U-Multirank and that the system's indicators are “relevant and enlightening” to compare his university's performance with others. But Ellen Hazelkorn, a specialist of rankings and director of research and enterprise at the Dublin Institute of Technology, points out that U-Multirank uses some of the same data as other rankings do, including citation rates or patent figures. Some of those numbers, such as the student-staff ratio, are controversial and “not necessarily meaningful” to assess quality, Hazelkorn says.