Thursday, 20 January, 2022

University Ranking: A Closer Look

Kumer Pial Das

University Ranking: A Closer Look
Kumer Pial Das

It was the 1980s when I first heard about the University of Dhaka. My eldest sister studied business at the university also known as the Oxford of the East.  She was doing great in her classes, and my father was so proud of her. The pride of sending her to study at the university was not our pride only. Friends, families, and well-wishers of the region in rural Rajshahi felt a deep pleasure from her performance at the university. I do not know whether because someone kin to my heart was studying there or because of the many poetic stories and/or myths and heroic or historical facts, stories and/or myths that I heard about the university, but I started to dream about the university-both day and night dreams. I thought about attending the university as a student, and I eventually did. 

More than 40 years later, I can attest that because of both of the reasons stated above (my eldest sister’s influence on me and the stories I heard about the institution), I loved my Alma mater, and I still do. I always proudly mention the University of Dhaka as my undergraduate institution everywhere in the world I go. My love and admiration for the university are not because of some Utopian version of the stories or myths; I still love the University of Dhaka primarily because of the quality of education that I received from my teachers at the university.

Recently, there have been discussions about the world ranking of this university, and it is alarming to see that none of our universities in Bangladesh are within the first 500 global rankings. Recently, U.S. News has published the Best Global Universities Rankings 2022. The overall Best Global Universities ranking encompasses 1,750 top institutions from more than 90 countries. This ranking is based on 13 indicators that measure their academic research performance and their global and regional reputations. Dhaka University is the only institution that has been ranked -In the Asian University Rankings, it has been placed 338th and #1181 in Best Global Universities.

Being a professor of data science at a university in the U.S. and being involved in many ranking calculations as a higher education administrator, I have become familiar with the mechanism of such rankings and classifications. The remainder of this article will focus on one such classification.

University rankings have been part of the western higher education landscape for decades. There are about 20,000 higher education institutions (HEIs) worldwide; however, there is a gladiatorial obsession with the rankings of the top 100 and the top 500. University rankings are designed to serve prospective students and their families. Moreover, rankings help government and non-government funding agencies predict which universities will yield the best return on research investments. Rankings also should indicate the quality of education that an HEI offers and manifest national/global competition. As expected, there are many different rankings of universities in the world. The U.S. News provides nearly 50 different numerical rankings and lists of universities primarily to help students and their families narrow their university search. These rankings have drawn widespread criticism from students, educators, and administrators for their dubious and arbitrary ranking. Many believe that these rankings serve prospective students very poorly. Nevertheless, these rankings are very popular, they provide a snapshot of an educational institution reasonably well, and everyone agrees that university rankings are here to stay. Instead of sorting all universities in order, Carnegie divides universities into classes, known as the Carnegie Classification of IHEs.

For almost five decades, the Carnegie Classification has been the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education. Starting in 1970, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education developed a classification of colleges and universities to support its research and policy analysis program. This framework has been widely used in the study of higher education, both as a way to represent and control institutional differences and the design of research studies to ensure adequate representation of sampled institutions, students, or faculty.

Carnegie classification shapes how government officials, independent analysts, and academic groups perceive about 5,000 HEIs in the U.S. It must be noted that the Carnegie classification should not be viewed as a ranking or rating but merely a description based on data. According to Dr. Victor Borden, the Director of Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, “it is important to note that the Carnegie Classification is not a ranking: it is a descriptive classification that differentiates institutions by highest degree level and then, within broad categories by various features, depending on the category. “The first version of these listings was published in 1973. The basic Carnegie classifications are Doctoral Universities, Master’s Colleges, Universities, Baccalaureate/Associates Colleges, Associate’s Colleges, Special Focus Institutions, and Tribal Colleges. 

The remainder of the article will focus on the Carnegie doctoral category only. Carnegie divides this doctoral category into the following major groups:

R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity. R1 is considered as sort of the pinnacle of higher education. The R1 category includes institutions known as global research powerhouses. Carnegie published the 2021 classification on December 15, 2021. Based on this classification, there are 137 top U.S. institutions in this classification. My current institution, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is one of them.

R2: Doctoral Universities – High research activity: This is the second-highest classification of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. To be classified in this category, an institution must award at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees last year and have at least $5 million in total research expenditures as reported through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Higher Education Research & Development Survey (HERD).

Carnegie uses the following eight variables in this calculation of the classification:

Science and Engineering (S & E) Research & Development (R &D) Expenditures; Non-S&E R&D Expenditures; Post-docs/Ph.D. Research Staff; Humanities Doctoral Degrees; Social Sciences Doctoral Degrees; STEM Doctoral Degrees; and “Other” Doctoral Degrees; Number of Faculty Full-Time Employee (FTE) in Rank. This variable is used to convert the other seven into Per Capita values.

With these variables, Carnegie conducts two separate Principal Components Analyses (PCA): One using the ranks of each university on the raw variables and the other using the ranks of each university on the variables weighted per capita (i.e., the ranks were derived after dividing each variable by the faculty size). Finally, it combines each analysis's first component to weigh the seven ranked raw variables and the following three per capita (input) indices. Regardless, a reconstruction of the first (raw variables) analysis very nearly reconstructs the final Carnegie classifications.

I have discussed why international universities are not included in the Carnegie classification with Dr. Borden, who thinks there are a few reasons why only U.S. degree-granting institutions are included in the Carnegie Classifications. Nevertheless, Dr. Borden will be interested in supporting our universities in Bangladesh to adopt the Carnegie Classification in Bangladesh.

Carnegie category recognizes a university's growing research profile. Research and creative activity should be central to its mission to teach, learn, create, discover, inspire, empower, and serve. The ultimate goal in expanding research activity at an institution is to discover new knowledge and solve problems that improve the human condition. In other words, an institution must build a culture of research. Most of the R1 institutions create centers and institutes to promote research. They invest significantly in Ph.D. recruitments, retention, and placement. We have come a long way in 50 years of national life. We have achieved tremendous growth in many areas. We must focus on research, innovation, and economic development based on our universities to sustain this growth.


The writer is Assistant Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Development and Assistant Provost, The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, USA