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College and university rankings across the pond

It is with embarrassment that I admit that I recently purchased a subscription to the 2009 U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings. I know, I know. But I use it in job-hunting to get the skinny on institutions, and it’s quick and it’s easy. Kinda like a microwave meal.

It’s comforting to know that the British don’t mind sinking as low, or almost as low: The Guardian publishes rankings of UK institutions, too. So, yeah, Oxford and Cambridge are numbers 1 and 2 for English, big surprise, and next the University of London, but who knew that the University of Warwick was so hot at number 4? Not this corn-fed American girl. It must be due to their proximity to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Note too that 1) the Guardian’s rankings are free, and 2) the methodology is substantially different from that of US News. Let’s compare the criteria that each uses:

US News

see
www.usnews.com/articles/education/best-colleges/2008/08/21/how-we-calculate-the-rankings.html?PageNr=2

The Guardian

see
education.guardian.co.uk/university2009/story/0,,2276943,00.html

The Guardian’s methodology is obviously much more student-centered, which I think is a very good thing. They actually ask students what THEY thought about the university. The idea that alumni giving represents an indirect assessment of student satisfaction is all very well, but why not try to gather a direct one? Also, how about that “job prospects” bit? I guess it’s no longer the U.S. which is crassly vocational and the U.K. which is hoity-toity liberal-arty.

Also, notice that both sets of rankings emphasize teaching as a measure of excellence, which does not match the incentive programs for faculty at most R1 universities. Apparently research doesn’t come into it at all. Hmm.

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