THE World University Rankings 2020 was presented at the Times Higher Education (THE) World Academic Summit, held in Zurich from 10 to 12 September. This year, for the first time, USI is featured in the prestigious ranking, standing out in particular for its international outlook. But what are academic rankings and how do they work? What is their meaning for a university?
International academic rankings first appeared around the middle of the past decade. Compared to the classic numerical-quantitative lists, academic rankings are much more complex - just for the fact that there is a great variety, with very different methodologies - and it is therefore important to know how to distinguish and weigh them, to understand above all the qualitative elements. In fact, the evaluation of a university cannot be reduced to the simple observation of its numerical rank.
The most well-known global academic rankings - THE, ARWU and QS - are compiled on the basis of the analysis of a very large amount of data. From these, indicators are compiled, mainly the bibliometric ones (citations and references in scientific publications). These are produced with the data taken from two main databases, the Web of Science by Clarivate Analytics and Scopus by the Elsevier publishing group. These and other quantitative factors, which consider the impact of the research carried out by universities, are nevertheless accompanied by equally important qualitative elements, such as the quality of teaching and the international outlook.
Despite its relatively small size and few years of activity (est. 1996), USI has recently appeared in a number of rankings, both globally, as in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, also known as the "Shanghai Ranking" because it is compiled by the company ShanghaiRanking Consultancy), and at the level of specialisation, as in the Financial Times Global Masters Ranking (Master’s of Finance) and CSRankings (Software engineering). The latter serve as reference rankings for students interested in specific disciplines or studying at the best institutes in their field of specialisation. In global rankings, on the other hand, a given university as a whole is ’weighed’ against the others in the same rankings.
As of this year, USI is also in the THE World University Rankings, placing itself in the first quartile of the overall ranking, in the range 301-350 out of 1396 universities considered from 92 countries and regions of the world, and distinguishing itself in particular for number two rank in the International Outlook pillar. This data, together with other indicators, reflects the many international scientific collaborations of the members of our academic community. According to data collected by Scopus, for example, publications with international authors and co-authors of USI reach 65%.
To take part in ranking initiatives such as THE, universities themselves make a request, by providing data that are then cross referenced with those provided by institutions such as, in Switzerland, the Federal Statistical Office or the Swiss National Science Foundation. For other initiatives, such as the Shanghai one, the rankings are compiled based mainly on the available bibliometric data. Among the reasons that lead universities to participate in the various academic rankings we find not only the intention to attain higher ’visibility’, but also to enable a genuine comparison with its peers to improve and to engage in an "internal debate", as is the case with USI.