QS World University Rankings by Subject: Prague 2012

Universities from four continents were represented at the launch of the 2012 QS World University Rankings by Subject in Prague.

Ben Sowter, head of research at QS, said the rankings would help prospective students to compile shortlists of universities that excelled in the particular subject that they wished to study. The extra layer of subject information would also be of great use to universities benchmarking their performance against their peers in other parts of the world, as well as feeding into the rating process for QS Stars.

The sessions demonstrated the growing influence of the rankings, as well as providing academics and researchers with their first opportunity to scrutinise the improved methodology used in the latest exercise. Discussion over the course of the day may lead to further refinements in subsequent years.

Professor Maxim Khomyakov, Vice-Rector for International Relations at the Ural Federal University, in Russia, said that QS rankings had become a key measure of performance at his institution and others benefiting from extra Government funding for the country’s leading universities. He said: “Of course no ranking system is flawless. They can all be criticised, but I think that ranking is the only available system for benchmarking and the only method of proving the international reputation of the university.”

The Russian government is supplementing the normal funding for the two state, seven federal and 29 national research universities by £33 million in order to raise their international standing. The Ural Federal University is devoting some of the money into bonuses for academics who publish journal articles with high impact.

Professor Mukhambetkali Burkitbayev, First Vice Rector of Kazakhstan’s Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, said his university was also offering salary incentives to academics based on ranking positions. The university, which is the largest in Kazakhstan and a 3* institution in the QS Stars system, is offering a growing number of courses in English to raise its international profile and assist its graduates in the jobs market.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s President, has set targets for the country to be among the top 50 in the world rankings and to have two universities in the top 200 by 2020. Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is the highest-placed at present, having moved from the top 600 to the top 400 in three years.
Two separate analyses of the civil engineering ranking, by Professor Jin-Guang Teng, Dean of the Faculty of Construction and Environment at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Professor Nasser Khalili, Associate Dean for Research at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New South Wales, stressed the importance of comparisons at subject level. Both universities had moved into the top 20 for civil engineering, but a panel discussion involving both academics produced suggestions for further improvements, such as raising the threshold for the number of citations needed for inclusion.
Louise Simpson, Director of the World 100 Reputation Network, told the conference that individual academics may take more notice of rankings than they think they do. A survey of academics in different parts of the world showed that although a relatively low proportion admit to being influenced by rankings, their own assessments of the leading universities in their subject followed the relative positions produced by QS and other ranking organisations remarkably closely.

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