Monday, November 19, 2007

The Imperial Ascendency

One of the most remarkable things about the THES-QS rankings is the steady rise of Imperial College London. It has now reached 5th place, just behind Oxford, Cambridge and Yale and ahead of Princeton, MIT, Stanford and Tokyo.

How did this happen? Imperial's research performance is rather lacklustre compared with many American universities. The Shanghai Jiao Tong index puts it at 23rd overall, 33rd for highly cited researchers , 28th for publications in Science and Nature, and 29th for citations in the Science Citation Index.

Google Scholar also indicates that Imperial does much worse than many other places. A quick search comes up with 22,500 items for research published since 2002, compared to 22, 700 for Seoul National University, 25,800 for McGill, 44,00 for Tokyo and 151,00 for Princeton.

Imperial does well on the THES QS rankings partly because of outstanding scores on the peer review (99 out of 100) , employer review (99) and international students (100).

It also comes first (along with 15 others with scores of 100) for student faculty ratio. Is this justified?

On its web site QS indicates that Imperial has 2,963 full time equivalent (FTE) faculty and 12,025 FTE students, a ratio of 4.06.

However, if we look at Imperial's site we find that the college claims 12,129 FTE students and 1,114 academic and 1,856 research staff.

It appears that QS has counted both academic and research staff when calculating Imperial's ratio. Looking at other universities, it appears that it is QS's standard practice to count research staff who do not teach as part of the faculty total. In contrast, Imperial itself calculates the ratio by dividing students by academic staff to produce a ratio of 11.2. If that ratio had applied Imperial would have been many places lower.

If QS has been counting research staff in the total faculty score it would lead to the truly bizarre result that universities could hire a large number of researchers and get a substantial boost for the student faculty score.

So far it looks as though this is s general procedure and not a special privilege granted to Imperial alone but it would introduce a definite bias in favour of those universities that, like Imperial, employ large numbers of non-teaching researchers.

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