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Dutch universities to take different approach to rankings

Dutch universities will take a more critical stance towards global university rankings. These ‘league tables’ have methodological shortcomings and their assessment of the research achievements of universities is too one-sided, being based on the number of publications and citations. This is at odds with the Recognition & Rewards programme, through which Dutch universities emphasise quality rather than quantity. So concludes an expert group advising the Board of the Universities of the Netherlands. UNL President Pieter Duisenberg: ‘Universities are ambivalent about university rankings. It’s important to be able to determine our place among the world’s top universities, but the current approach does not do justice to the breadth of work that we do. As a consequence, we’ll be using these rankings less frequently, contributing instead to the development of alternatives.’


What are rankings?

University rankings come in different shapes and sizes. The expert group’s advice focuses specifically on league tables. These are rankings that try to capture a university’s performance in an overall score of accomplishments in research, education and impact. In doing so, they claim to reflect the overall performance of a university. However, there is no universally accepted criterion to quantify a university’s overall performance. In addition, league tables emphasise research achievements, which are largely determined by the number of publications and citations.


Universities believe it is important to perform well in these international rankings, as many students, scientists, businesses and governments use them. However, the methods by which these league tables are drawn up and the value assigned to them is at odds with the principles of the Recognition & Rewards programme. As part of this programme, institutions actually want to give more weight to different qualities in science, rather than looking at a single quantitative dimension to measure quality. UNL therefore asked an expert group for advice on how universities can best deal with the league tables in relation to Recognition & Rewards.


What will change?

The expert group has indicated that the use of league tables can undermine Recognition & Rewards. It offered a number of recommendations at the institutional, national and international levels. In the coming period, Dutch universities will work together to implement these recommendations. Universities will make changes regarding the use of league tables at both the national and institutional levels. For example, universities will contribute to alternatives to league tables, such as multidimensional rankings. They will also no longer use the league tables for internal evaluations or budget allocations. In addition, the data supplied to league tables will be made public. At the national level, UNL will work to increase awareness about the limitations of league tables. It will also try to discourage the use of league tables by the government.


Furthermore, UNL will engage with international partners to bring about change at the European level as well. As a first step, UNL has taken the initiative to explore a joint guideline with European university umbrella organisation EUA and experts from Germany, France, the Republic of Ireland, Poland and the UK.


The expert group’s advice focuses specifically on league tables. There are many more rankings. These include topical rankings, subject rankings, regional rankings and rankings for universities that have existed for less than 50 years. The advice limits itself to league tables because they serve the largest group and unfairly claim to capture the performance of universities in one-dimensional rankings.


Read the recommendation paper


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Ruben Puylaert


+316 13 86 10 69

Gijs Kooistra

Deputy spokesperson

+316 82 05 72 66