Number 1 Again?
By Doğa Düzgören | May 12, 2021
Cover Illustration: The entrance to one of the buildings on the University of Amsterdam’s Roeterseiland Campus. Elisa Morand / The Amsterdammer
In light of UvA’s position in the 2021 QS World University rankings, University Reporter Doğa Düzgören critically examines the relevance and reliability of such ranking systems.
The QS World University rankings have released their 2021 edition, and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has placed first for two majors.
Every year, different databases release university rankings based on a variety of factors. One of the leading sources for this is QS, with its annual university ranking report. It relies on components of academic peer review, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, employer reputation, international student and staff ratio. QS is one of the go-to’s while deciding on where to go to university.
The Delft University of Technology, leading the Netherlands, placed number 57 worldwide in 2021. Second in the Netherlands, the University of Amsterdam placed number 61. The joint venture between the UvA and VU (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)’s dentistry faculties, the Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA) has ranked third. Also, the faculty of Communication and Media Studies has ranked number 1 worldwide. Having a solid presence for both of the faculties, ACTA has claimed second place for the past two years; while Communication and Media have been number 1 for the past four years.
Are rankings reliable?
The QS model and approach to calculating results has been widely criticized. Even though the way the results are calculated differs from publication to publication, the results remain somewhat the same. This is because the systems are biased one way or another; such as reliance on popularity surveys.
Overall, it is harder for non-western universities to rank on these lists since their first language is not English. This results in them not having as many citations compared to their western counterparts, and them placing lower on all the rankings. The concept of a ranking in itself is of Anglo-Saxon origin, so when observing rankings one should take into account how much each country is willing to invest in meeting the criteria that allow them to score high which does not necessarily reflect on the education provided by the university.
So, most of the rankings follow a similar western-oriented and subjective survey result-based approach while reaching its results.
Online learning and adaptation
Due to the pandemic, all higher education has transformed its teaching systems to fit regulations, most of it switching to an online format. Universities took on different software like Zoom and GoogleMeets, to continue their lectures and seminars. To ensure the reliability and integrity of exam results, some also started using proctoring. The UvA implemented this for some faculties, but not for all.
For the UvA’s rankings, almost a full year of online teaching did not affect this year’s results negatively. They even rose from 64th to 61st this year. The adaptation measures have not been included as a different factor in the rankings nor have the results of these measures. As online education seems to continue in the Netherlands as well as most of the world, it is only with time that the results of the quality of online education will show.
What does this suggest for the future?
Since there has been no generation that has only had online higher education in the current workforce, the implications are not apparent yet in real life, or the rankings.
When it comes to the rankings themselves; if they try to follow a more holistic and inclusive strategy; this may lead to more universities being added to the list. However, due to the way the system is skewed, it is easier for high-ranking universities to stay high and harder for new universities to enter. This means it is likely that UvA will keep its stride for the upcoming years as well.
Rankings are seen as important accomplishments that should be celebrated. The UvA’s student body, academic and administrative staff tried their utmost best to overcome the hardships of this pandemic. However, concerns regarding more important questions of ‘is the UvA #1 for inclusivity and equity?’, ‘is the UvA #1 for student mental health?’ and ‘is the UvA #1 for student safety?’ continue to prevail.
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