A new edition of a rather new Brazilian university ranking was just published. It is the third edition of the RUF (Ranking Universitário Folha), organized by one of the country’s leading newspapers, the “Folha de São Paulo”. Although strongly criticized, the rankings are an unavoidable trend in the higher education sector, and this Brazilan example follows this current fashion of competitive comparisons. On the positive side, one can see that there is a clear intention to improve the quality of the data used and the weight given to each variable, leading to a more refined result. In addition, it is worth mentioning that the greater availability of these data and increased number of rankings can lead to a better overview of the higher education system.
The RUF rankings are based on 5 basic and weighted criteria: 42% research (with 8 different indicators), 32% teaching quality (4 indicators) 18% labor market evaluation (from a survey with almost 2000 professionals responsible for recruiting to the labor market), 4% internationalization (2 indicators) and 4% innovation (1 indicator). See more details at: http://ruf.folha.uol.com.br/2014/
There are more than 2,200 higher education institutions in Brazil, but only 195 of them are officially accredited as universities. The new ranking evaluates 192 of them, and, not surprisingly, the public universities completely dominate the top positions, with only 8 private universities in the top 50 (the first one in 18th place). It is worth noting that the private universities that reach good positions are not-for-profit organizations, usually confessional institutions (connected to some religious group). Also not surprising is that regional imbalance is evident in the ranking, with universities from the wealthiest states in the top positions. The top ten spots are occupied by 4 universities in São Paulo, 1 from Minas Gerais, 1 from Rio de Janeiro, 1 from Rio Grande do Sul, 1 from Santa Catarina, 1 from Brasilia, and 1 from Paraná.
Amazingly, even the ranked institutions have an extremely low research production. From the 192 universities that were evaluated, 176 of them (91%) have fewer than one academic publication in an indexed journal per faculty member in a period of two years. It is clear that one should focus on the quality and impact of the publications, but in this case, the low quantity is a clear indicator of the poor quality of research in the vast majority of the Brazilian universities, which, by law, should be a contribution to the community along with teaching and service. There are, of course, a few islands of excellence recognized internationally within Brazilian higher education, but they continuously struggle against internal corporative demands as well as outbursts of populism that sway the established governance system—not always the best impetus to drive quality output.
Other interesting data are related to international cooperation in the few universities that maintain considerable research activity. Of the published papers, 9.3% have a co-author from the United States. Other relevant international actors are: France (3.2%), Germany (2.9%), UK (2.8%), Spain (2.5%), Italy (2.0%), Canada (1.9%), Portugal (1.6%), Argentina (1.6%), and Netherlands (1.1%). It will be interesting to follow this trend in the coming years, to observe any consequence of the Brazilian mobility program that was running in the last few years with the intention of expanding international collaborations.
There are indeed many criticisms to rankings, their methodologies and their exploitation for commercial purposes. However, if considered with caution and with specific viewpoints they can provide important information to better understand the complexity of the higher education scenario.
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