Is it worth relying on all rankings?

Today rankings perhaps become the brightest "beacon" for those choosing a university. Where should we study to find a decent job and earn a good salary? What universities offer the best internships? Many people find answers in university rankings. Waldemar Siwiński, Vice-President of IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta about what modern rankings lack.

There are many rankings: their criteria are nearly the same, but the results are different. Which rankings can we rely on?

Waldemar Siwiński: As a matter of fact, not a single ranking provides a truthful overview of a university today. "The number of scientific papers", "the number of students per teacher", "citation level"… All criteria are good and important, but they do not show the most important thing - the level of graduates' competence. Universities train not only scientists, but also ordinary highly qualified specialists - engineers, doctors, teachers. Academic rankings will not show how we teach them. There must be other university lists - by certain disciplines.

What about subject rankings, for example, QS, which is the most popular one? Four Russian universities at once have just entered the world's Top 100 of QS!

Waldemar Siwiński: There is a secret: subject rankings are a kind of "extract" from global rankings. It's a mini-format with practically the same criteria. They should be changed, for example, we should get medical universities evaluated by the level of internship and the volume of clinical facilities, and not by the number of students and professors. The "portfolio" of our association comprises about 50 various rankings, and no good subject rankings at all, but we can create them.

But how? Should we recruit professionals?

Waldemar Siwiński: Yes, we can do it as well. We have just started to develop the European Ranking of Engineering Education Programs. Employers' opinion and students' participation in particular engineering projects is what really counts. What's the trouble? We have no databases that would take into account such student activity. I can't imagine the ranking of engineering majors without such an indicator as patents for developments obtained by the universities. Product is number one concern for engineers. Not to publish, but to introduce - that's the main principle. 

Russian universities "move up" in global rankings, but many are still far from Top 100. As an expert, what would you advise them to improve their positions?

Waldemar Siwiński: It's not an easy task. Universities which have resources, traditions, international ties hold top spots in all global rankings. As a rule, these are large universities: they teach medicine, economics, engineering "rolled into one". Russia follows another tradition: HEIs are classified by fields of study. Russian HEIs are traditionally strong in physics, mathematics, biomedicine, nanotechnologies. But it's high time they paid more attention to sociology, history, and other humanity subjects. They are coming to the fore. There's something to work at.

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