Monday, August 22, 2005

Ranking universities

The US News and World Report has its annual list of US's best universities.
It is split into several sub-categories, but also has the top "national rankings"; it makes interesting reading. UC Berkeley is the top public university, but only comes in at number 20, behind Washington St Louis, Brown, Notre Dame and ranked equal to Emory.

Penn State is #48. Comfortably above Pitt and OSU ;-) but well below Michigan and CWRU.

Interesting, not quite how I'd rank it, but defendable.

So here is a ranking of the world's top 500 universities - (link stole from Tangent Space).

So, here UC Berkeley is ranked #4 with Oxford at #10 and Cambridge #2.
At a glance I'd agree with these rankings and reject USNandWR; in fact I'd agree almost completely with the top 50 ranked, and not just because Penn State is #39 in the world rankings, despite being #48 in the US!

For contrast, PSU is still below Michigan and Washington St Louis, (UT Southwestern Med Center at #38 - I don't think so...) but above Pitt, OSU and CWRU.

The ranking is overloaded with Med Schools, and I think they underestimate some European universities, but the Euro unis tend to be smaller and more provincial which hurts in world rankings. Europe is at 15% in the top 40, but 33% in the top 150.

In contrast the Times ranking of UK universities ranks Oxford above Cambridge (which is clearly insane).

So what is going on here?

Well, actually the ranking are pretty consistent - the USNandWR and the Times rankings are biased towards undergraduate education. In particular, the USNandWR has a lot of small private universities that are highly ranked, because they do provide very good education for their undergraduates. That does not make the top ranked universities in the world, where graduate programs and research efforts (and the professional schools, especially med schools) rank much more strongly.

BTW, last time I checked the full USNandWR ranking, Penn State was #1 in one interesting category: we had the best undergraduate outcome, given the intake.
That is, given the ranking of our incoming students, and the resources (PSU has poor faculty-staff ratio for a high ranked university) assigned to teaching, the PSU students did much better than predicted.
That is good.

Oh, and the rankings are fairly robust. I think almost everybody would agree on 6-8 members of the "first rank" of US universities: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, UC (Berkeley or system as whole), Chicago.
Depending on how big you make the "first rank" you could then argue about who belongs; it'd depend precisely on u-grad vs post-grad importance, size, med schools etc. But you'd pretty much get the top State schools in there no matter how you rank them; so PSU, OSU, ASU etc etc would all slot in the top 50 somewhere, but not the top 10, and probably not the top 20 or 25.

But, hey, give us ~ $10 billion, each, and we'd make a go of it...


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