Times University Rankings Doesn’t Pass Reasonableness Test

Raghuram Sukumar Edu News 5 Comments

After posting two different rankings last week, there was an outrage among students about Washington Monthly(WM) rankings. Students were more inclined to US News and Times University rankings than WM, because some universities were not ranked higher. I have always said, that I don’t believe in university rankings. I go by students profile and which school will be better fit for them.

Today, I would like to highlight some of the flaws identified in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. Top 100 Universities in the world blog post posted last week was based on new Times rankings method and experts believe its flawed.

According to Richard Holmes – lecturer at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia author of the University Ranking Watch blog

What happened was that a series of bad choices by Thomson Reuters led to the extraordinary situation where Alexandria was presented as the fourth best university in the world for research impact, Hong Kong Baptist University ranked above Chicago, Bilkent University above Oxford, and Royal Holloway above Columbia.

They assigned too high a weighting to a single criterion, chose only one indicator to measure it, failed to take precautions against self-citations and used a threshold that was far too low.

The result was that a small number of highly-cited, sometimes highly self-cited, papers could be amplified into an absurdly high score. And since nearly a third of the weighting went to this criterion, that score could be amplified into an unreasonably high total score.

It is also very odd that universities could improve their indicator and total scores by simply preventing their faculty from publishing papers.

These rankings have exposed several weaknesses in the use of citations as a measure of research excellence. There will have to be discussion about the issue of self-citation, the criteria for including journals and conference proceedings in the ISI indexes and the propriety of editors publishing their own papers.

Note from President of University of Alberta

However, when one looks under the hood, beyond the top 20 universities, the new ranking has some very peculiar outcomes that does not pass the “reasonableness test.” Alexandria University in Egypt received one of the highest scores for citations while also receiving the lowest score for research reputation. By comparison #1 Harvard received near perfect scores on both measures. Logic would suggest that the aggregate score for research reputation should correlate with the score for citations, which measure research influence. However, in spite of the vast discrepancy between its scores, Alexandria, which has never been on any other international ranking, came in ahead of many top universities. Furthermore many universities considered by peers as among the best do not appear in the top 200.
Something is awry.

Way I feel about Rankings

There are 2 things here

  • Rankings of universities
  • Value of the university

Some universities are considered prestigious, not because they are ranked higher. They are ranked higher because they are prestigious.Value comes first, then comes rankings.

Some of you will come right and agree that rankings are flawed and some will not agree to this argument. But, I really don’t care about rankings.


  1. Hi HSB,

    I just read this somewhere on your site, and I am not sure if I got it the right way. Do you help in shortlisting the universities for study in US? If so what requirements do you need to judge the university fir the student. What all do you need to be mentioned in the student's profile.

    Awaiting your reply


    1. Actually Kirtika, i dont think that HSB will help you out in shortlisting universities, its a blog not a website or agency.

    2. Yes kirthika.. HSB will not do any help for shortlisting universities.. Me too planning for MS in fall,2011. If you think we can help each other feel free to say. [email removed – admin]

  2. HSB,

    i am planning to apply at Canada in following Universities for M.Sc in Pharmacology (Faculty of Health Sciences);-

    1. U of Toronto

    2. U of British Columbia

    3. U of Alberta

    4. McMaster University

    5. Victoria University

    Could u please tell me about these universities from my course point of view

  3. The key weakness with rankings schemes is their static nature and one size fits all approach. To be useful to students, rankings must evolve to be datasets that prospective students can use to create their very own personalized ranking. The set of considerations that matter to one student do not need to be the same as for other students and therefore a static ranking does a disservice to an undetermined number of prospective students.


    Daniel Chatham

    Dean of Admissions, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences

    Board of Directors, National Professional Science Masters Association

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