By Ruth A. Pagell*
- What roles do publicly traded companies have in the scholarly supply chain and how can that affect university decisions?
- How are the companies supplying the data for the rankings, increasing their revenue and influencing and impacting the rankings?
- Where are the libraries?
- Should universities be rated as companies?
ABSTRACT: The impact and influence of companies in the information supply chain on rankings are investigated in the three chapters not covered in Ruth Rankings 49, a review of the Research handbook of university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence and impact. These chapters go beyond the obvious financial relationships between suppliers and users of ranking data. Times Higher Education and Elsevier are two case studies. The third chapter examines the roles of scientific journal publishers and publisher management platforms. Also, I raise two issues of personal concern. One is the absence of libraries in the Handbook. The other is from my MBA background and my SDG research. In addition to looking at the business of rankings, there should be ratings of universities as businesses, using the ESG (environment, society, and governance) metrics used to rate corporations.
The BUSINESS OF RANKING
(11 Apr 2022) As a library director, I was aware of the providers of scholarly materials and their financial business models. Did I purchase a publisher’s bundle or subscribe to databases? How much of my budget did I put toward Web of Science or Scopus to help researchers and administrators determine hiring and tenure decisions.? However, the relationship between publishers, databases, and bibliometric suppliers with university rankings was nowhere on my radar.
For decades ISI (Institute for Scientific Information) provided scholarly output data and was the bibliometric source for the early rankings. Elsevier rolled out Scopus in 2004. Today the two data analytics providers, Web of Science and Scopus, are parts of billion dollar publicly traded global businesses, Clarivate and RELX.
In 2017, almost a decade after my first article about bibliometrics and university rankings, I was asked to investigate the business models of the bibliometric data providers and receivers. (Pagell 2008). Ruth’s Rankings 32 explains the revenue stream for the individual ranking organizations. The three Handbook chapters dig deeper into the relationships between rankers and data suppliers and expand the list of suppliers and their products that can impact and influence the rankings. The three chapters are:
Chapter 32: Miguel Antonio Lim -The business of university rankings: the case of Times Higher Education.
Chapter 31: Chen, George and Chan, Leslie – University rankings and governance by metrics and algorithms with Elsevier as a case study
Chapter 30: Coates, Hamish, and Liu, Lu – Reputational risk rating and the commercialisation of higher education, adding publishers and providers of educational tools.
TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION (THE)
Times Higher Education has been in business for over 100 years, starting as a magazine for teachers. It was the educational supplement to the Times of London newspaper. It launched the subscription publication Times Higher Education in 1971. The company has recently received attention because of the frequency of its changing ownership and because of its expanding initiatives to engage university decision makers. When I reported on THE as a business in 2018, it was part of TES global. It is now part of the private equity firm, Inflexion.
Lim uses THE as his example, building on an earlier article where he explained THE’s credibility. (Lim, 2021, 2017). He uses THE as an example of a ranker that has developed its own tools and is selling its knowledge to decision makers (Lim, 2021, pg. 445).
Hanson and Bossche continue the analysis of THE, following its acquisition of Inside Higher Ed in 2022. According to the authors, THE is now more a data company than a publisher. At the same time, its history as a publisher of higher education information gives it more credibility with policy makers than competitors like QS.
SOURCE OF BIBLIOMETRICS – A case study of Elsevier
I only had to read a few sentences of Chen and Chan’s chapter to realize how important it is for those of us concerned with rankings and bibliometrics. The chapter delves into the relationship between the data providers, Clarivate and Elsevier, with an emphasis on Elsevier. Clarivate supplies data to rankers while Elsevier has formed close alliances with THE and QS. The authors state that data providers “extract rent from the university beyond their traditional roles as publishers and citation data providers” (Chen and Chan 2021).
Both Elsevier’s parent RELX and Clarivate are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Elsevier and Clarivate have many other services that they sell to their customers beyond data analytics. As both a publisher of journals and a provider of bibliometric data, Elsevier’s neutrality has been questioned.
Elsevier’s ownership has remained stable, while its tools continue to grow. Clarivate has had major changes since 2018. It completed its purchase of Proquest on December 1, 2021. That purchase included the library management provider Ex Libris (Ojala). Until its purchase of Proquest, Clarivate claimed it was publisher neutral. Chan believes that Clarivate has never been neutral. In a private email, he stated that “They own the JIF, which to me is one of the most powerful governing instruments on how researchers and institutions behave with regard to publication outlets and productivity measure. So, when they also sell research intelligence to the same institutions, they are stepping into a conflict of interests in my view” (Chan 2022). Clarivate and the Proquest acquisition will be covered in the 21 April webinar that will be available to the public.
To Do: See Appendix RR 50.1 for a list of the different services provided by Elsevier and Clarivate.
Sign up for CGHE Webinar April 21, 2022, with Hazelkorn, Chen, and Chan, “The Business of Ranking, publishing, and data analytic, using the same case as in the book
https://www.researchcghe.org/events/cghe-seminar/the-business-of-ranking-publishing-and-data-analytics/ or after April 21, visit CGHE’s past events page: https://www.researchcghe.org/events/
EXPANDING THE SCOPE OF INFLUENCERS
To paraphrase Coates, Lui, and Hong, prominent research rankings have lured universities into a quality agenda that has enabled big global capitalism to commercialise aspects of higher education (Coates, Liu, and Hong, 2021, pg. 413.) Their analysis includes scientific publishers and global publishing management platforms listed in Appendix 50.2. The authors are concerned that the common academic services will lead to the homogenisation of higher education. They conclude by proposing three actions that universities should take:
- All universities, including the bibliometric elite, should look beyond publications to broaden their roles and contributions
- Universities should develop in ways that encourage diversity and creativity
- Universities will need to run activity-based financial systems
Reading Chapter 30 raised my concerns about the lack of library presence in the Handbook chapters and also supported my interest in the need for universities to be more business-like.
WHERE ARE THE LIBRARIES?
The five publishers listed in Appendix 50.B Table RR 50 mention libraries and researchers as part of their target audiences and it is often the libraries who are the decision makers in scientific publishing purchases. Library choices of publications to purchase and researchers’ choices of where to publish may have an impact on bibliometrics. They are important for what appears in WOS or Scopus, but it is not clear that these choices are made with rankings in mind.
THE UNIVERSITY AS A BUSINESS
I was thinking, always dangerous for me because it means more work, that the existing rankings look at universities from their educational performance or their impact related to SDGs. There are certain aspects of finance and governance that are fundamental to any organization whether it is traded on a stock exchange, not for profit, or government-funded. Currently, publicly traded companies are rated on ESGs, Environment, Social, and Governance, as a factor in investing. RELX is number three in the professional services industry. I would like to see some of these indicators incorporated into rating universities.
CONCLUSION: Clarivate has joined the New York Stock Exchange, Times Higher Education has purchased Inside Higher Ed, and more tools are for sale to facilitate the research process. Research and rankings have become big business. Since rankings are here to stay and new products including AI are being developed to facilitate research, it has become even more important for users of rankings to understand the methodologies and indicators being used. At the same time, it is important for policy makers and administrators to re-examine their institutions’ priorities.
Chan, L., Chen, G., and Hazelkorn, E. (forthcoming webinar, 21 April 2022). “The business of rankings, publishing, and data analytics”. Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), Oxford UK. https://www.researchcghe.org/events/cghe-seminar/the-business-of-ranking-publishing-and-data-analytics/
Chan, Leslie (19 March 2022). Personal email
Chen, George and Chan, Leslie (2021). “University rankings and governance by metrics and algorithms” in Hazelkorn and Mihut, ed. Research Handbook of University Rankings, Edgar Elgar. pp: 425-443; draft of chapter available at https://zenodo.org/record/4730593#.YjTsvurMJPY
Chen, George, Posada, Alejandro and Chan, Leslie. (2019). “Vertical integration in academic publishing: Implications for knowledge inequality” in Chan, l. and Mounier, P. ed. In The 22nd International conference on electronic publishing – Revised selected papers, request full text from authors: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333484005_Vertical_Integration_in_Academic_Publishing
Coates, Hamish, Liu, Li, and Hong, Xi. (2021). “Chapter 30: Reputational risk ratings and the commercialisation of higher education” in Hazelkorn and Mihut, ed. Research Handbook of University Rankings, Edgar Elgar. pp: 425-443
Hansen, M. & Van den Bossche, A. (10 Feb2022). “Times higher education is expanding but what is it becoming? LSE Impact Blog. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2022/02/10/times-higher-education-is-expanding-but-what-is-it-becoming/
Hansen, M., & Van den Bossche, A. (16 Feb, 2022). From newspaper supplement to data company: Tracking rhetorical change in the Times Higher Education’s rankings coverage. POETICS In press, available online: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2021.101637.
Hansen, M., & Van den Bossche, A. (8 March 2022). CGHE Webinar, Click here for access to presentation slides, recording, and transcript
Hazelkorn, E. and Mihut, G. eds (2021). Research handbook on university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence, and impact. Cheltenham, UK. Edward Elgar, accessed at https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/usd/research-handbook-on-university-rankings-9781788974974.html
Lim, Miguel Antonio. (2021). “The business of university rankings: the case of Time Higher Education” in Hazelkorn and Mihut, ed. Research Handbook of University Rankings, Edgar Elgar, pp: 444-453
Lim, Miguel Antonio. (April 2017) “The building of weak expertise: The work of global university rankers.” Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0147-8
Ojala, Marydee. (25 May 2021). “The Clarivate-Proquest wake-up call”. NewsBreaks”, accessed at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/The-ClarivateProQuest-WakeUp-Call-147038.asp
THE Reporters (March 2019). “New owner for Times Higher Education: Inflexion acquires company from TPG Capital”. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/new-owner-times-higher-education
32 (January 2018). “The business of rankings: Show me the money”, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-32-business-rankings-show-money/
48 Part 2. Country and company environmental rankings add new sets of indicators to our vocabulary, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-2-country-and-company-environmental-rankings-add-new-sets-of-indicators-to-our-vocabulary/
49 (March 2022) “ A comprehensive overview of rankings, higher education policy, and geopolitics: Research Handbook on university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence and impact”, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-49-a-comprehensive-overview-of-rankings-higher-education-policy-and-geopolitics-research-handbook-on-university-rankings-theory-methodology-influence-and-impact/
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674