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Columbia University withdrew from the university rankings. Is the ranking of international universities reliable

In the 2022 U.S. News ranking of American universities published by American news and world report in September 2021, Columbia University (hereinafter referred to as”Columbia University”) was tied for the second place with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of technology. Columbia University ranked 11th in the times higher education world university rankings in 2022.

In February this year, Michael Sardis, a professor of mathematics at Columbia University, pointed out that several key data supporting the high ranking of Columbia University were inaccurate, suspicious or highly misleading. On the evening of June 30, Columbia University officially issued a notice. Mary Boyce, the provost of Columbia University, said that Columbia University would temporarily withdraw from the ranking of U.S. News universities in 2023. July 1 was supposed to be the day when Columbia University submitted data to the U.S. News ranking agency.

The controversy about University Rankings has once again been pushed to the forefront of public opinion. Since the university ranking was launched, its scientificity, accuracy and independence have been questioned in the field of higher education. This year, several”985″ universities in China announced that they would no longer participate in the ranking of international universities, or would no longer use the ranking as an indicator of school construction. And how to evaluate universities after”de ranking”?

Columbia University withdrew from the ranking and was accused of data fraud

Facing the challenge of Professor Michael Sardis of Columbia University, Columbia University wrote in a statement issued on July 1:the leaders of Columbia University attach great importance to these issues and have begun to review the data collection and submission process. Ben Zhang, a spokesman for Columbia University, said he did not want to guess when Columbia University would participate in the ranking again.

As one of the Ivy League schools, Columbia University, founded in 1754, is one of the oldest universities in the United States.”When I see the university ranking data of U.S. News, I know that they are unlikely to be correct and conflict with the University’s goals. For example, the ranking claims that the undergraduate class size of Columbia University is very small, which is contrary to the University’s practice of expanding the undergraduate class size.” Michael Sardis wrote in an email reply to China Newsweek.

In February this year, Sardis published a long article on the school website, analyzing the data submitted by Columbia University to U.S. News and the possible real data, and found that there were differences between the two, and the submitted data were beneficial to the ranking of Columbia University. U. The ranking of S. news is based on a complex formula, including class size, faculty, alumni donation, graduation rate and other indicators, with weights accounting for 8%, 20%, 3%and 22%respectively. Taking the class size of undergraduate students as an example, the larger the proportion of small classes, the higher the score of the school.

In the application information of 2022 U.S. News ranking, Columbia University provided data that 82.5%of undergraduate courses have less than 20 people, and 8.9%of courses have more than 50 people. However, Sardis found through the statistics of the course registration information of Columbia University that from the autumn of 2019 to the autumn of 2020, only 62.7%- 66.9%of the undergraduate courses of Columbia University have less than 20 students, and 10.6%- 12.4%of the classes have more than 50 students.

For another example, Ge claimed that 100%of the teaching staff had the highest doctorate. This has obvious advantages over its competitors Princeton, MIT, Harvard and Yale, where the proportion of doctoral degree faculty is about 90%. According to Sardis, of the 968 full-time teaching staff at Columbia University, about 66 teachers have the highest degree of Bachelor or master.

U. Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer of S. news, said in a statement on July 1 that Columbia University admitted that they could not meet the data standard for the ranking of the best universities in 2023 published by U.S. News, which caused a series of problems.”We are concerned about this and are reviewing various programs, including data previously submitted by Columbia University, to ensure that our ranking continues to maintain the highest level of integrity.”

With regard to data collection and verification, taking the U.S.News ranking as an example, China Newsweek found on its official website that after the school submitted most of the information to the institution, U.S.News would analyze the errors, major changes or inconsistencies compared with previous years, and usually this process would be solved together with the school. Where possible, the agency will cross verify data from different sources.

“Scandals have been happening.” Sardis said that Columbia University is not the only one with abnormal ranking. For example, in 2019, according to the official information of U.S. News, five universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, admitted that the data submitted by the University for the organization’s”best university in 2019″ ranking the previous year was incorrect. The New York Times wrote that the withdrawal of Ivy League schools such as Columbia University from the ranking, even if it is temporarily withdrawn, is a blow to the reputation of the university ranking list, and may prompt other universities to reconsider whether to participate in the ranking.

In 1983, American news and world report printed the first cover of the”ranking of the top 50 colleges in the United States”. At that time, it coincided with the transformation of American higher education from elitism to popularization. Like consumer guides, it became necessary to guide people to make choices in thousands of universities and institutions. U. The S. news list has also become the first national university ranking.

The first global university ranking was born in China. In 2003, Shanghai Jiaotong University released the Academic Ranking of world universities (hereinafter referred to as”ARWU”). A year later, the British times higher education supplement also had its own ranking list – the times higher education world university ranking (hereinafter referred to as”the”). Since then, more and more global university rankings have begun to emerge. At present, there are more than 50 university rankings published in the world. Among them, there are more than ten rankings of universities around the world, and the four most influential are U.S. News, the, QS ranking of British quararelli Simmons and ARWU.

Powerful motivation behind ranking improvement

According to Robert Morse, chief data strategist of U.S. News, U.S. News ranking allows students to compare schools in an apple to Apple way, that is, to compare all aspects of two things one by one, and initiate national actions to make the education industry more transparent.

However, according to Zhang duanhong, deputy director of the Institute of higher education of Tongji University, Conceptually speaking, universities, as a complex system, cannot be ranked by themselves. He explained to China Newsweek that, for example, it is difficult to compare a university with only hundreds of professors with a university with thousands of professors. The comparison between universities should be fully and carefully demonstrated, and university ranking is like putting apples, oranges, bananas and other fruits together to make a big fruit comparison.

Reed College, a well-known liberal arts and Science College in the United States, has refused to participate in the U.S. News ranking since 1995. It is the first higher education institution in the United States to refuse to participate in this university ranking. Colin Dave, the former president of Reed College, wrote in his new book breaking ranks published in April this year:rankings provide a strong motivation for manipulating data and distorting the school running behavior of higher education institutions, because the only or main purpose of colleges and universities is to exaggerate their scores on various indicators. Because rankings rely heavily on unaudited, self-reported data, there is no way to ensure the accuracy of information or the reliability of rankings.

“We can’t kill the university rankings with one stroke. What’s important is our correct understanding and scope of use of university rankings.” Linchenghua, a distinguished researcher at the National Institution Research Institute of Zhejiang University, told China Newsweek that if you use rankings too broadly, you will be coerced by the business institutions behind the rankings, and let unscientific and one-sided rankings become the baton of university development.

In fact, the continuous questioning of higher education circles about the unscientific and inaccurate university ranking is shaking the obsession of universities at home and abroad. Zhang duanhong said that in the past two years, the enthusiasm of domestic universities for ranking has declined as the education authorities have played down the role of university ranking in the evaluation of higher education. An important signal is the”general plan for deepening the reform of educational evaluation in the new era” issued by the State Council in October 2020. The document reads:promote the classified evaluation of colleges and universities, guide the scientific positioning of different types of colleges and universities, and create their own characteristics and levels.

During the 13th Five Year Plan period, many domestic colleges and universities took university ranking as one of their school running goals. Since the end of 2020, as the country began a series of rectifications of educational evaluation, including weakening the quantitative indicators such as the number of papers included and citation rate, Zhang duanhong predicted that there would be a lot less universities that included the university ranking in the”14th five year plan” of colleges and universities. In April this year, in the”Notice of the CPC NANJING UNIVERSITY Committee on the progress of the seventh round of inspection and rectification of the 19th Central Committee” published on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the State Supervision Commission, the University of Nanjing made it clear that in the preparation of the”14th Five Year Plan” of Nanjing University and the”overall construction plan of Nanjing University for the construction of” double first class”universities, international rankings will no longer be used as an important construction goal for the development of the University and the construction of disciplines.

In May this year, CNR confirmed that Renmin University of China has indeed decided not to participate in the international rankings. Lanzhou University has never participated in the times higher education world university ranking. According to media reports in May this year, a staff member of the relevant department of the University said that times had previously specifically contacted the school and finally decided not to participate in the ranking. QS reported data for one year when contacting the school before, but it should not follow up later.

But many university rankings can’t actually”quit”. In addition to the”the”, the other three well-known rankings of global universities, whether colleges and universities participate or not, will not affect the rankings of universities by ranking institutions. Zhang duanhong explained that, for example, U.S. News has rankings of international universities and local universities in the United States. The former can rank without data submitted by universities, while the latter requires data provided by universities. This time Columbia University is involved in the ranking of American colleges and universities. If you don’t submit data, you can’t rank. The open data sources of colleges and universities are diverse, some are public information on the school website, and some data are from the literature index database.

How should universities evaluate after ranking?

Zhang duanhong pointed out that in essence, university ranking is a tool for”laymen” in non higher education circles such as students, parents, government and society to make decisions. It is vague and rough, and it cannot undertake the mission of professional evaluation. In reality, university rankings are usually an important reference for students and parents to choose schools. Moreover, the ranking of the universities attended is also closely related to the job search and settlement of graduates.

In June this year, the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of human resources and social security issued the notice on the implementation of special support measures for talents to help resume work and production. On the basis of meeting the basic conditions for overseas students to settle down, those who graduate from the world’s top 50 colleges and universities will cancel the requirements for the payment base and payment time of social insurance premiums, and can directly apply for settlement after working in the city full-time; Those who graduated from the world’s top 51-100 can apply for and settle in the city after six months of working full-time and paying social insurance premiums.

Because various demands actually exist, many respondents believe that it is difficult for the university ranking to disappear, and there is no need to let it disappear. Because ranking agencies make and publish rankings is a kind of business behavior. As long as there is demand and attention, university rankings are bound to exist.

Hong Chengwen, a professor at the Institute of higher education of Beijing Normal University, told the new China闻周刊》,大学排名并不是完美的,但是对于面临大学选择的新生和家长,还有招聘高水平人才的机构来说,大学排名是一种简单而低成本的参照,因此尽管其长期被抨击,却一直没有消亡。


如果不看大学排名,又可以依靠什么?普林斯顿大学校长克里斯托弗·艾斯格鲁伯认为,像奥巴马政府时期教育部门推出的“College Scorecard(高校计分卡)”网站就很好,允许所有人在几个选定的维度对大学进行比较,而不会受到排名的干扰。

2015年9月12日,美国联邦政府教育部正式发布“高校计分卡”,公开了美国近7 000所高校的相关资料及数据,包括学校年均学费、学生毕业率、平均贷款额、贷款偿还率和毕业后薪水等。虽然这些数据也来自于高校,但一般大学排行榜或高校的自我介绍,主要提供教学科研资源、人才队伍、学术成果、社会声誉等数据指标,太过学术化,并与学生、家长的直接关联不大。而计分卡则简要地列出学生和家庭最为关注几个指标。


在哥大教授萨迪斯看来,排名对学生的帮助不大。每个学生都有独特的需求,不应仅参照大学排名这一个指标。除了依靠“College Navigator(大学导航员)”和“大学记分卡”这样的交互网站,还可以参考大学指南,这些指南描述了每所院校的优势和劣势,但没有对它们排名。而“大学导航员”网站提供了美国高校信息,学生可以按照录取率、SAT分数、地理位置、学制、毕业率、专业设置等条件进行学校筛选。