Thursday, 3 March 2011

World university rankings and institutional repositories

  There are several well-established worldwide university rankings: Times Higher Education (THE) in the UK, Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) in China, Leiden University ranking in The Netherlands and Webometrics ranking by CCHS-Cybermetrics Lab in Spain - incidentally the only one featuring specific rankings for Top African Universities -where University of Khartoum features in place 24 and the Sudan University of Science & Technology in place 36- and Arab World universities. Ever improving assessment formulas are designed - partly due to competition among them- based on a growing number of indicators aiming to cover different aspects of university performance.

These rankings are very popular in the media, and often deeply relied upon by university chancellors and managers as well. But when listening to the main argument used for ranking promotion -namely the growing numer of Asian, mainly Chinese students using them to make up their minds about what foreign university to travel into for their university debut- it becomes apparent the issue is mainly about institution web visibility rather than quality. And that's where repositories can play a key role as very valuable institutional assets for both showcasing the institution's research output and pushing their visibility on the Internet into higher standards.

There are paradigmatic cases within the Open Access community where a rather small, in principle unimpressive university in terms of number of students, nr of degrees offered or budget will achieve a high position in the national university rankings due to its solidly-established institutional repository. Universidade do Minho, based in Braga, Portugal, may be the most paradigmatic case of such repository impact in Southern Europe, with their RepositóriUM being one of the first worldwide to be established and populated -due to an institutional mandate issued by an Open Access-supportive chancellor. The result is everyone in the OA community has heard about UMinho and the Repositórium evolution is an example of a whole country's Open Access strategy being built around the success of a single very sound repository project (see 'the accretion model' for development of Open Access infrastructure).

In Spain, Universidad de Alicante plays a similar underdog role in terms of affiliated staff, number of students and several other indicators, but obtains very good results in university rankings, far better than much bigger Spanish universities thanks to its RUA open access institutional repository. Again, as a result of a vicechancellor's effort for promoting the Open Access (and, more generally speaking, the digital) paradigm, the University of Alicante is perceived in the Open Access community and beyond as a modern, appealing university for students to attend and professors to work at.

University of Southampton could be a comparable example in the UK, featured as it is before Oxford University in the Cybermetrics Lab university ranking thanks to a very solid institutional repository project - whole analysis depending nevertheless on indicators used by different assessment schemas.

By looking into a particular methodology for defining a world university ranking we may see how the setting up of an institutional repository highlights a university's research output on the web. For this purpose we'll focus on the web repository world ranking, published twice a year by researchers at the Spanish Cybermetrics Lab, Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, Spanish National Research Council (CCHS-CSIC). The analysis of the methodology applied for establishing the ranking may also be useful when examining repository design requirements.

The publicly-available criteria for the Cybermetrics Lab ranking ellaboration is the following:

Open Access availability of an institution research output on the Internet via an Institutional Repository particularly enhances the institution's performance for indicators 2, 3 and 4, resulting in a higher place in rankings.

There are also world institutional repository rankings available on the Internet, Cybermetrics Lab's, being possibly the most popular one. Assessment criteria are very similar to the ones used for university ranking. As a result, big international subject-based repositories such as arXiv or SSRN in the world repository ranking are regularly featured in the ranking's first places.

However, as the most recent version (Jan 2011) covers 1120 repositories worldwide, even small, very recently established repositories get featured in this ranking. This means if a project for building a Faculty of Science/UofK Institutional Repository started now, the IR could probably feature in the next edition of this ranking due July 2011.

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