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Web-based University & College Rankings: What We Need to Know


In recent times, reportage on tertiary education ranking in the country is increasingly gaining recognition. Some have used it as the yardstick for assessing how well these institutions are doing.  Presently, in our country as well as other countries, the Webometrics ranking of world universities is the most respected of all university web-rankings. Inclusion in the ranking is free.  From all available evidence, our universities, colleges, and some opinion leaders, have relied more on the Webometrics rankings for their conclusions than any other body.

For instance, based on the 2010 Webometrics ranking publication, authorities of KNUST, attributed their ranking as the top university in Ghana, and 20th in Africa to “…quality of staff and graduates that the university churns out and its contribution to the development of the country”.  (The Ghanaian Times, Tuesday, February, 23, 2010 Edition).  Similarly, in response to the 2011 ranking publication, KNUST expressed their excitement about their consistent improvement on the ranking table, again 1st in Ghana, and 18th in Africa.  The authorities of the KNUST attributed their ranking to the toil of management, faculty and students of the university who are determined to remain at the top. (Ghana’s First Free National Tertiary Newspaper, Feb21-27, 2011 Edition.  The article is also available athttp://knust.edu.gh/pages/news.php).

In line with that same publication, there were reports in both the print and the electronic media about Regent University College of Science and Technology being ranked 3rd best in Ghana after KNUST and University of Ghana in the 1st and 2nd position respectively.  

One of the co-authors of this article remembers vividly a recent meeting he had with the head of one of the major Christian denominations in Ghana.  This eminent denominational head could not hide his excitement about his position on the Webometrics ranking, when he said “our university is the best in Ghana!”  To which the co-author asked, ‘Did you mean, the best among the private universities in Ghana?” His question still did not curtail the excitement of this denominational head, when he answered, “Yes, it is the best in Ghana.” The co-author however, had to draw his attention to the fact that the situation keeps on changing and that some few months back, the institution in question did not occupy the first position. 

In another instance, during a recent induction service of a newly appointed Rector of one of the private universities, the rector, who had just returned from a lectureship appointment in South Africa, stated how well his previous university in South Africa was doing on the university rankings, based upon Webometrics data, and that he was going to work hard to improve the ranking of the new institution which he had been appointed to head.

During a recent encounter between a reporter of Village Communications with our public affairs manager, the hostess of the programme “Hard Truth”  was adamant in insisting that, Regent University College of Science and Technology was experiencing declension in that,  the institution had dropped from the third position in the January 2011 Webometrics ranking. The host will not agree that the ranking, important as it is, does not touch on important issues like staff-student ratio, class sizes, the quality of physical infrastructure, the quality of learning resources (library) available in an institution.    

Since there is currently no indigenous or regional ranking body, it appears that Webometrics for some time now, has set the pace.  As the web-based ranking of tertiary institutions increasingly gains importance in Ghana, there is the need for institutions to strive for consistency, circumspection, and integrity, knowing that it’s only hard work that can raise the profile in visibility of our educational institutions on the global terrain.

Recent media reports indicate that some are using another web ranking body (4International Colleges and Universities-4icu.org,) to highlight the performance of various institutions. A publication in the Daily Graphic of February 26, 2013, has the caption “VVU is ranked first private university in Ghana.” The author, based his conclusions entirely on the publications of 4icu.org ranking.  Expectedly, the school authorities also welcomed it as a success story and attributed it to the high level of innovation and the quest for research work by the institution.  Whiles on the Webometrics ranking, a different polytechnic institution took the best ranked polytechnic in the country.

In another publication in the Daily Graphic dated February 19, 2013,  it was reported that “Kumasi Polytechnic ranked best in Ghana” based on December 2012 rankings of the 4icu.org ranking.  Authorities of the institution commented in that news story with great joy and attributed their success to “demonstrated aggressive approach to research, advancement of ICT” at the university campuses among others. Meanwhile, on the Webometrics ranking, the same private university for the same period (six-month ending, 31st December, 2012), occupied the 4th position.

The author of the two articles entirely ignored the Webometrics ranking which was released during the same period.  Not surprisingly, another article has just appeared on Myjoyonline (15th March, 2013) with the caption “Takoradi Polytechnic rated Ghana best for the 2nd time” http://edition.myjoyonline.com/pages/news. So you see, confusion emerges: Who is Who?

In an undertaking of this nature one does not expect the same kind of results if different variables are used.  However, if the same variables are used, then one would expect the results to be the same. 

This obviously raises a key concern as to the pedigree and credibility of these ranking bodies as well as the reliability of their rankings in respect of quality education delivery.  Since the Webometrics rankings have gained currency globally, and the 4icu rankings also seems to be making some inroads, it is important that for the benefit of the reading public and decision makers,  more information is provided on the two bodies. The purpose of this article is therefore to provide more information on the two organisations, and how our local institutions are faring locally and globally.  It concludes with a call to all stake holders of our local institutions not to be satisfied with their position as local champions or being among the local champions; rather they are encouraged to focus on the ultimate goal of becoming global champions, since at the moment, our positions in the global rankings are not the best.

 

Webometrics/Cybermetrics Lab Rankings

The Webometrics University Ranking is a biannual publication by the Cybermetrics Lab, which attempts to provide reliable, multidimensional and updated information about the performance of more than 20,000 higher educational institutions worldwide. The ranking is based on combined indicators that consider both the volume of Web content and the visibility and impact of these web publications according to a number of external inlinks they receive. The Ranking is to promote academic web presence, supporting Open Access Initiatives for increasing significantly the transfer of scientific and cultural knowledge generated by the universities to the whole Society. This approach takes into account a wide range of scientific activities represented in academic websites. The publication of the rankings, according to the Cybermetrics Lab, is one of the most powerful and successful tools for consolidating the processes of change in the academia to increase institutions and scholars’ commitment to their mission (teaching, research and transfer) through web publications (http://webometrics.info/en/Methodology).

The Cybermetrics Lab is a research group of the Spanish Research Council-the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) - the largest scientific public research body in Spain (attached to the ministry of education) and one of the most important networks of research centres in Europe. The CSIC collaborates with other institutions of the Spanish Research and Development system including universities, autonomous bodies, other public and private research organisations, etc, which contribute to the Cybermetrics Lab with its research capacity and human and material resources in the development of research projects.

The Lab has been developing quantitative studies on the academic web since the mid-nineties and outcome presented mainly in the conferences of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI, 1995-2011) and the International Conferences on Science and Technology Indicators (STI-ENID, 1996-2012) and published in high impact journals (Journal of Informetrics, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Scientometrics, Journal of Information Science, Information Processing & Management, Research Evaluation and others). The Lab is devoted to quantitative analysis of Internet and Web contents specially those related to the processes of generation and scholarly communication of scientific knowledge. Its approach is based on university web presence, visibility and web access and measures how strongly a university is present in the web by its own web domain, sub-pages, rich files, scholarly articles etc.

Webometrics uses link analysis (covering bibliographic citations and third parties involvement with university activities) to capture the multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary dimensions of universities worldwide for quality evaluation. Four key scientifically designed indicators are used to measure institutional activities (Excellence, presence, openness) and their visibility (as impact).

Excellence - a measure of high quality output of research institutions based on academic papers published in high impact international journals in their respective scientific fields with data provided by Scimago Group.

Presence - The total number of webpages hosted in the main webdomain (including all the subdomains and directories) of the university as indexed by the largest commercial search engine-Google.

Openness - This account for the number of rich files (pdf, doc, dcx, ppt) published in dedicated websites compiled by the Google Scholar academic search engine. Result of this indicator is to stir and promote global effort to set up institutional research repositories widely accessible to all.

Impact - This indicator measures quality of contents which is evaluated by counting all external inlinks that the University webdomain receives from third parties. Such data is collected and provided by the Majestic SEO and Ahrefs  (both being Search Engine Optimisation tools) both generating different databases. These links are subjected to criteria of web edited from all over the world to reflect institutional prestige, the academic performance, the value of the information, and the usefulness of the services as introduced in the webpages.

From all indications, it is obvious at this point that the Webometrics ranking is a credible one with scientifically based methodologies that is strongly supported by long rooted research bodies in academia. As the rankings of the two organisations are all web-based, one may deductively conclude that the ranking is just assessing web presence (which is obvious and I agree) through web publications and hence raises scepticism and doubt about the reliance of the rankings in assessing quality education delivery. However, the indicators used are conglomerate of several dimensions or variables all specifically targeting academic activities and related issues on the web.

 

4International Colleges & Universities

4International Colleges & Universities (4icu.org) is a higher education search engine and directory which review and rank about 11,160 Colleges and Universities by web popularity, in 200 countries twice each year since 2005. 

According to this body, the ranking uses an algorithm including five unbiased and independent web metrics extracted from three different search engines: Google Page Rank Alexa Traffic Rank and the Majestic SEO, having three metrics - Referring Domains, Citation Flow, and Trust Flow.

The body however states that, the exact formula adopted to aggregate the three web metrics is not disclosed for copyright reasons and to minimize attempts of manipulation from university webmasters in order to achieve better rankings. Information on the 4icu.org website clearly indicates that the body objective and scope has nothing to do with academic ranking and hence quality of tertiary education delivery. It states “We do not claim - by any means - to rank organisations or their programs, by the quality of education or level of services provided. The 4icu.org University Web Ranking is not an academic ranking and should not be adopted as the main criteria for selecting a higher education organization where to study” but rather ... “to provide an approximate popularity ranking of world Universities and Colleges based upon the popularity of their websites. This is intended to help international students and academic staff to understand how popular a specific University/College is in a foreign country” http://www.4icu.org/menu/about.htm accessed on 4th Feb 2013.

It appears from the foregoing that there is no clarity and transparency in the methodology adopted by the 4icu.  It is also worth noting that the core objective of this body has virtually little or no relation with quality delivery of tertiary education.  

 

Conclusions

It is also important to mention that the web-rankings, important as it is, does not take into consideration factors like the quality of a said institution’s physical infrastructure, student-faculty ratio, and the quality of an institution’s learning resource centre (Library), among others.

It is time our local tertiary institutions beef-up their efforts and capacity on technological reliance so that they could boldly compete with their international counterparts. If this ranking is global why then are our local tertiary institutions often comparing themselves only with institutions within the borders of Ghana, ignoring what is happening in other latitudes?   In all the media reports, the position on the ranking in the world is never mentioned or commented on. It appears we are only interested in being recognized as local champions ignoring the fact that the picture of our performance is being viewed and assessed by global indicators which call for hard work.

A highlight of the six-month Webometrics ranking, ending December, 2012, which was released in February, 2013, is quite humbling.  We reproduce the data for the first ten institutions in Ghana below.

 

Tertiary Institutions

July 2012 to December, 2012 Rankings

Ghana

Africa

World

University of Ghana

1

18

1672

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology

2

23

1833

University of Cape Coast

3

54

3480

University of Education, Winneba

4

92

5222

Ashesi University

5

over 100

7645

Regent University College of Science & Technology

6

over 100

8752

Presbyterian University College

7

over 100

8833

University for Development Studies

8

over 100

9780

Valley View University

9

over 100

10553

Christian Service University College

10

over 100

11978

http://www.webometrics.info/en/Ranking_africa

 

We can make the following conclusions from the forgoing table.

  • Only four of our local tertiary institutions  manage to appear in the top 100 rankings in Africa with the best position being 18 in Africa and 1672 in the world by University of Ghana;
  • The best ranked private university in Ghana (Ashesi University) occupies the 7645 position in the world and not even listed among the top 100 in Africa.

Comparatively, our effort is not enough to earn us any medal in the African and Global scene. Even though there has been significant improvement in our technological usage in our local tertiary institutions compared to a decade or so ago, we have all fallen short to the glory of globalization and technological advancement from a global assessment perspective.

Key questions that need to be researched and answered is what are the  best ranked tertiary institutions in Africa and the world doing that our local tertiary institutions are not doing? On the African continent, eight (8) out of ten (10) highest ranked universities by the December 2012 Webometrics ranking are from South Africa with Stellenbosch University leading in Africa.  The best in Africa occupies the 400th position in the world!

It’s time we ignite our momentum, break loose of every complacency and aim at becoming global leaders. With hard work, determination, and investment in technology, the institutions in Ghana can improve upon their rankings.   This is possible!  We remember University of Ghana being 43 in Africa in 2007, climbing to 40 in 2010 and now 18 on the African ranking in December 2012. Similarly, KNUST was 63 in Africa in 2007, rising to 20 in 2010 and now 23.

Thus, there is light at the tunnel but this call for greater efforts, increased technology application and capacity building, and a positive change of attitude by all stakeholders with a view of making our tertiary educational institutions global centres of excellence. 

By:

Okyeame Larbi & Ohene Gyamfi,

Regent University College of Science and Technology, Ghana