IREG’s first quality certificates to rankings systemsIREG, the Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence, this month granted the first quality certificates to university ranking systems – QS World University Rankings and Poland’s Perspektywy University Ranking – marking the beginning of a new era for this interesting field.
The two ranking systems received ‘IREG approved’ quality certificates at the “IREG Forum on University Rankings – Methodologies under scrutiny” conference that was held in Warsaw, Poland, from 16-17 May and attended by 130 rankings experts from 32 countries.
The event was co-hosted by the Perspektywy Education Foundation and the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The audience reacted enthusiastically to the news, seeing the emergence of a credible rankings watchdog. Audits of other rankings are on the way.
The growing use of university rankings is an important phenomenon of higher education in the 21st century. But while rankings have found a lasting place in the academic landscape, both on the national and global levels, they still face a wall of accusation and misunderstanding.
“National and international university rankings serve as an effective and useful tool providing information to prospective students, contributing to improvement of the quality of higher education, and monitoring higher education reforms,” said Jan Sadlak, president of IREG.
Given the key role of rankings in higher education the world over, rankings must also be accountable. It was for this reason that the IREG Observatory came up with the idea of auditing rankings.
The IREG Observatory is an international non-profit association of ranking organisations, universities and other bodies interested in university rankings and academic excellence.
Its purpose is to strengthen public awareness and understanding of issues related to university rankings and academic excellence.
Developing the audition system
In order to start the audits, a set of detailed rules for the process was prepared under the guidance of the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions. A roster of independent experts who could carry out the audits was then created.
To conduct an audit, a team of three or four international experts from different countries was assigned to conduct an evaluation. The work of the teams was coordinated by Professor Klaus Hüfner, an independent expert on higher education, from Germany.
Poland’s Perspektywy University Ranking – a national ranking produced by the Perspektywy Education Foundation since 2000 – was audited by a team chaired by Jamil Salmi, a global expert on higher education formerly with the World Bank.
The other team members were Carla van Cauwenberghe of the Dutch Inspectorate of Education and Patricia Georgieva, an expert at the Qualification and Quality Support Centre in Bulgaria.
“Quality and credibility have always been the centre of our attention. I am happy that a team of international experts noticed it and rewarded us,” said Waldemar Siwinski, president of the Perspektywy Education Foundation.
The QS World University Rankings is a global ranking that has been produced by the Quacquarelli Symonds Intelligence Unit since 2004. Along with the main ranking, two regional rankings were also evaluated: QS World University Rankings Asia and QS World University Rankings Latin America.
All three of the rankings may use the ‘IREG approved’ quality label.
The team that audited the QS rankings was chaired by Tom Parker, an expert with the Institute for Higher Education Policy in the United States, and included Stanislaw Chwirot, dean of physics, astronomy and applied informatics at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland, Sadiq Sait Mohammed, director of information technology at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, and Akiyoshi Yonezawa, an associate professor at the University of Nagoya in Japan.
Ben Sowter, QS head of research, said of the audits: “Beyond the result itself, it signals the willingness to open our systems and processes up to external, independent scrutiny and exhibit the same transparency we demand of universities.”
The QS and Perspektywy ‘IREG approved’ certificates are valid until the end of 2016. In the case of QS, the certificate may not be used with the QS Stars system, as the latter was not covered by the IREG audit.
Will auditing improve rankings?
Hopes that the IREG audits will help improve the quality of rankings have been expressed in circles that not that long ago were quite negative towards the idea of ranking universities.
In the European University Association’s 2013 report on rankings, Global University Rankings and their Impact, author Andrejs Rauhvargers pointed out that the IREG audit process might have had effects before it even began.
“There are signs that the providers of global rankings are already paying more attention to the transparency of their methodologies and to general compliance with the Berlin Principles.” Rauhvargers was hopeful that IREG audits would “lead to substantial improvements in ranking methodologies and the quality of information provided”.
Siwinski considered it only natural that rankings, while gaining in significance, should be prepared for scrutiny by the academic community in order to ensure their transparency and professionalism.
“Rankings should make themselves available to the audit, as their authors may not claim to have an unlimited right to judge others. Once the audits have became reality, we the rankers are no longer immune,” he said.
* Bianka Siwinska is editor-in-chief of Poland's higher education magazine Perspektywy, a publication of the Perspektywy Education Foundation.
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