The new 2010 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings issue has just been released and we will see, no doubt, plenty of discussions and debate about the outcome. Like them or not, rankings are here to stay and the battle is now on to shape their methodologies, their frequency, the level of detail they freely provide to ranked universities and the public, their oversight (and perhaps governance?), their conceptualization, and so on.
Leaving aside the ranking outcome, it worth noting that this new rankings scheme has been produced with the analytic insights, power, and savvy, of Thomson Reuters, a company with 2009 revenue of US $12.9 billion and "over 55,000 employees in more than 100 countries".
As discussed on GlobalHigherEd before:
- 'A case for free, open and timely access to world university rankings data' (13 September 2010)
- 'Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?' (14 July 2010)
- 'Bibliometrics, global rankings, and transparency' (23 June 2010)
- 'Regional content expansion in Web of Science®: opening borders to exploration' (15 January 2009) [this is a guest entry by a Thomson Reuters rep]
- 'Multi-scalar governance technologies vs recurring revenue: the dual logics of the rankings phenomenon' (30 November 2008)
Thomson Reuters is a private global information services firm, and a highly respected on at that. Apart from 'deep pockets', they have knowledgeable staff, and a not insignificant number of them. For example, Phil Baty, of Times Higher Education sent out this missive on 14 September via their Twitter feed: "2 days to #THEWUR. Fact: Thomson Reuters involved more than 100 staff members in its global profiles project, which fuels the rankings".
The incorporation of Thomson Reuters into the rankings games by Times Higher Education was a strategically smart move for this media company for it arguably (a) enhances (in principle) their capacity to improve ranking methodology and implementation, and (b) improves the respect the ranking exercise is likely to get in many quarters. Thomson Reuters is, thus, an analytical-cum-legitimacy vehicle of sorts.
What does this mean regarding the 2010 THE World University Rankings outcome? Well, regardless of your views on the uses and abuses of rankings, a Thomson Reuters-backed outcome will generate more versus less attention from the media, ministries of education, and universities themselves. And if the outcome generates any surprises it will make it a harder job for some university leaders to provide an explanation as to why their universities have fallen down the rankings ladder. In other words, the data will be perceived to be more reliable, and the methodology more rigorously framed and implemented, even if methodological problems continue to exist.
Yet, this is a new partnership, and a new methodology, and it should therefore be counted as YEAR 1 of the THE World University Rankings.
As the logo above makes it very clear, this is a powered (up) outcome, with power at play on more levels than one: welcome to a new 'roll-out' phase in the construction of what could be deemed a global 'audit culture'.