By Ruth A. Pagell*
(13 Jan 2023) “Sustainable development can only be achieved when there is economic, social, environmental and cultural balance” derived from Buddhist philosophy expressed by the previous King Rama IX, at the foundation of the National Institute of Development Administration (Seneviratne).
As I was preparing my end-of-year report, which was to have a few short updates, I kept finding more articles that continued the conversation in RR 53 about the expanding role of universities beyond traditional and SDG rankings and beyond SDGs to a broader view of sustainability.
This post includes articles I have read from different regions in University World News, QS’ follow-up initiatives to its Sustainability rankings, and QS moving into the impact space that belonged to THE. UWN articles feature universities from Thailand, UAE, and Zimbabwe. Additional indicators are recommended.
In order to cover the other items on my update list, this became a stand-alone article. The separate update will contain a review of a new book, Academic Freedom in Asia, my personal notes on the Internet Librarian 2022 conference, and leftover rankings released at the end of 2022 including the complete update to UI GreenMetric.
UNIVERSITY WORLD NEWS December articles
Global: I began looking at higher education policy in depth with a review of Hazelkorn and Mihut’s Research handbook on university ranking in RR 49 (Hazelkorn & Mihut). Hazelkorn’s current article provides a comprehensive description of changes that have taken place over the past few years. She highlights an increasing emphasis on equity, ethics, integrity, and sustainability that may lead to changes in rankings, but not their demise. She recommends alternative ranking sources that meet the expanding roles of universities. (see Appendix below).
Global: RR 20 introduced the concept of flagship universities in Douglass’ book The New flagship university. He recommended changing the focus from university rankings to national relevancy. (Douglass, 2016). In this article, he states that there is a need for improved engagement and communication with the university’s community and the public to improve its local profile and impact. He asks readers to think about how the university can elevate the societal value of science and university expertise (Douglass 2022).
Asia – Thailand: Seneviratne features the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), which integrated Buddhist teachings into its philosophy of “Creating Wisdom for Sustainable Development”. The Thai approach to teaching development economics and environmental management is based on concepts derived from Buddhist philosophy. It was introduced by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX). The development strategy is called SEP, Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. NIDA and Siripattana Training Center offer an annual course in SEP.
Middle East: The American University in the Emirates is an example of a university that has integrated the spirit of the SDG goals into all levels of the institution to help create a sustainable mindset. Rather than supporting projects mapped to the SDGs, AUE applies SDG practices to its internal operations. Success requires equipping youths with global values of fairness, tolerance, empathy, peace, and lifelong learning to ensure sustainability at a national level. The article stresses the important role of investing in human capital in tackling SDGs.(Blessinger, Singh, & Khodabocus).
Africa – Zimbabwe: Other articles emphasize the positive. Gora critiques the lack of progress of Zimbabwean universities in implementing SDGs. Higher education Institutions need to step up the implementation of SDGs and include them in their curriculum. According to Gora, there are efforts to align with industry but no ties to SDGs. Gora’s news article is based on a journal article discussing barriers to the implementation of SDGs by Zimbabwean universities (Mhlanga, et. al.). The article’s authors are affiliated with the only Zimbabwean university in an SDG ranking, the National University of Science and Technology, in UI GreenMetric. NUST notes that SDGs are integrated into the university’s current strategic plan in alignment with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’ SDG implementation plan. Although only ranked by THE World Rankings, the University of Zimbabwe has an Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development Institute.
Progress in SDGs is a Sub-Saharan problem. There are 13 African countries on at least one of the three SDG rankings, THE Impact, QS Sustainability, and UI GreenMetric. THE ranks the largest number of Sub-Saharan countries in its world rankings, 16 out of 50. Over 45% of all African universities listed in the ranking are from five North African countries. See Table 53 A.1 for a list of African countries with universities that have Impact or Sustainability rankings. Top in Africa for THE Impact is Aswan University (67), QS Sustainability, U Cape Town (132), and UI GreenMetric, American U in Cairo(134).
Until QS released its Sustainability ranking, THE “owned” the SDG space from the major rankers. Now QS is trying to make its own impact. In the lead-up to its release of the 2023 SDG rankings, QS surveyed students on the importance of sustainability in their university choices (Crace). Figure One shows students’ responses. A university’s being in the top 100 is more important than the environment, but sustainability becomes preferable if the university is in the top 500 or below.
FIGURE 1: Importance of sustainability to students
Sustainability is a major topic for discussion at the QS February 2023 India summit along with SDG-related topics, such as women’s empowerment. Sustainability is also a featured topic in QS’ 2023 EduData Summit. QS is offering universities a Sustainability Performance dashboard. Times Higher Ed also has an Impact dashboard . It covers the universities in its Impact rankings.
For the past two years, I have been introducing alternative rankings and their metrics. Today there is more focus on the expanding role of universities. How will this be reflected in university rankings?
APPENDIX 53 A:
According to Hazelkorn, “the pace of grassroots initiatives challenging the status quo has quickened in recent years.” She lists examples of these initiatives. Some rank only US universities but provide ideas for other rankings that could be used worldwide.
Source: Washington Monthly‘s College Guide and Rankings (Sep/Oct 2022); published since 2005
Who: Colleges granting baccalaureate and master’s degrees
What: Contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and providing opportunities for public service. It also has a rankings for “Best Bang for the Buck” colleges by US geographic regions, helping non-wealthy students obtain marketable degrees at affordable prices. Click here to read the methodology. Click here to read the 2022 College Guide magazine issue.
Rankings: National, Liberal Arts, Master’s, and Bachelor’s degrees.
Table 2 shows the top in each category.
Who: The Third Way’s Economic Mobility Ranking (Jan 2022)
What: Examines colleges that enroll the highest proportion of students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds and provide them with a strong return on their educational investment.
Rankings: The top ten national universities with top low-income students; number one is Cal State, Los Angeles
Who: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (Jan 2022)
What: return-on-investment rankings with alternative choices; use filters to specify degree, metrics, location, public/private among others.
Rankings: 4,500 US institutions that offer certificates, associate, or bachelor’s degrees; number one for 10 year NVP Harvey Mudd
Who: US Social Mobility Index from CollegeNET; although it provides fewer choices than the Georgetown rankings, it is easier to use.
What: Six metrics, the most important being ethos, tuition, and economic background of students; number one Cal State San Marcos
URL https://www.socialmobilityindex.org/ includes methodology and definitions
Who: The Institute for Fiscal Studies UK
What: Contributions to social mobility a one-off report (Britons, J., Drayton, E. & van der Elve, L.)
Rankings: Top is Queen Mary University
Who: The Center for Open Science, first covered in RR45 in 2020. The number of participating journals has grown from under 400 to over 2000.
What: Publishers and academic journals commitments to research transparency and reproducibility. Ranking: Top journals are Cadernos de Lingustica (Cad-Lin from the Brazilian Linguistics Association) and Meta-Psychology, published by LnuOpen
Hazelkorn recommends UI GreenMetric and the Academic Freedom index covered in Ruth’s Rankings 48 parts 1 and 2. Both will be included in the upcoming year-end update. She also recommended Globethics.net University Ranking. It proposes to use student and staff feedback to measure university contributions to building just, peaceful, sustainable, and inclusive societies. I will be investigating this in the future.
Blessinger, P, Singh, A. and Khodabocus, F. ( 10 Dec 2022) “The important role of human capital in tackling SDG”. University World News, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2022120712474362
Briton, J., Drayton, E. & van der Erve, L. (24 Nov 2021). “English universities ranked on their contributions to social mobility: Least selective post 1992 universities come out on top. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, https://ifs.org.uk/news/english-universities-ranked-their-contributions-social-mobility-and-least-selective-post-1992
Crace, A.J. ed. (26 Oct 2022). 2023 Sustainability Rankings higher ed report, use this URL to download the report https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/2023-sustainability-rankings-higher-ed-report/
Douglass J. A. (10 Dec 2022). “How to enhance the credibility of academia in public life “. University World News, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2022120609564028
Douglass, J.S., ed (June 2016). The New Flagship University https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-20-world-class-universities-new-flagship-university-reaching-rankings-remodeling-relevance/ See also Douglass’ new book “Neo-Nationalism and Universities Populists, autocrats and the future of higher education” Johns Hopkins Press, open access on Project Muse. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/85165
Gora, P. (08 Dec 2022). “HE institutions need to step up the implementation of SDGs”. University World News, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221114071000570
Hazelkorn, E. (17 Dec 2022). “Pressures on rankings may lead to a more meaningful exercise”. University World News, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221214143421145
Hazelkorn, E. & Mihut, ed. (2022 ). Research handbook on university rankings. https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/usd/research-handbook-on-university-rankings-9781788974974.html
Mhlanga, E., Tlou, F. N., Shave, N. . et al. (May 5, 2022 ) “Barriers to the implementation of Agenda 2030 United Nations global goals in the Zimbabwean Higher Education Context”. Intl J of Latest Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, 79-88 http://www.ijlrhss.com/paper/volume-5-issue-5/9-HSS-1329.pdf
RR 20 (July 2016). Flagship universities https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-20-world-class-universities-new-flagship-university-reaching-rankings-remodeling-relevance/
RR 45(20 May 2020). Top Factor, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-45-insights-top-factor-journal-impact-reimagined
RR 48 Part 1 (23 Nov 2021), introduces UI GreenMetric, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-1-how-green-is-my-university-ranking-green-universities-new-metrics-and-new-leaders/
RR 48 Part 2. (31 Dec 2021). including Academic Freedom Index, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-2-country-and-company-environmental-rankings-add-new-sets-of-indicators-to-our-vocabulary/
RR 49(March 2022) . 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/
RR 53 (Nov 2022) Beyond SDGs, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-53-beyond-sdgs-qs-releases-its-world-sustainability-rankings/
Seneviratne, K. (4 Dec 2022) “ University embraces ancient wisdom in its SDG programmes”. University World News”, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221203064449698
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