By Ruth A. Pagell*
- Who is number one in the world in 2021?
- What Asian university has the highest overall ranking?
- What country has the highest ranked institution in Gender Equality?
- What institution in SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, has the nicest name?
(29 April 2021) I am currently on a hunt to find new indicators to evaluate academic institutions. Ruth’s Rankings has been closely following THE’s Impact rankings based on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This is a foray in the right direction.
In 2019, Ruth’s Rankings 38 introduced readers to SDGs. The article includes background information on the Goals and Times Higher Education’s involvement. RR 41 followed when THE released the actual rankings. I was disappointed in the first ranking. THE invited universities to participate by proving institutional data. Fewer than 500 universities responded.
There was a lack of transparency. Each SDG has its own metrics and percentages, spread across four broad areas: research, stewardship, teaching, and outreach. Definitions for individual metrics used for scoring each SDG are provided but not a university’s performance on the metrics. Not all SDGs were covered. Search strategies were not available. We commended THE for its attempt to measure universities’ engagement with the goals. At the same time, we questioned the methodology and shared that the Ranking only answered the question: “Who are the most impactful universities who answered the survey?”
We updated findings for the second edition of the rankings when they were released in April 2020. THE added 299 universities and six countries and all SDGs were ranked. But lack of transparency remained.
In March 2021, Ruth’s Rankings reported that Elsevier provided the search strategies for all the SDGs. Being able to replicate the searches is important to researchers. Elsevier will be making further enhancements to search strategies along with the use of AI. Click here for more details from the update on how to retrieve scholarly articles about each SDG.
1,240 institutions participated in the 2021 release and 1,115 received an overall score, based on answering SDG 17, Partnership for Goals, combined with a minimum of three other SDGs. Including universities teaching only graduate students is an enhancement to the new rankings. 98 countries have participated, representing all geographic regions.
Australia has seven universities in the top 20, followed by the UK with five and Canada with three. University of Manchester is number one overall. See Table 1 for the top 20 in 2021 and 2020 with 2021 THE World Rankings. Six of the top 20 are in the top 100 in THE’s 2021 World Rankings. The highest ranked is University of British Columbia at 34. 18 of the top 20 are from English as a first language countries. Three continents are represented in the top 20: Oceania, Europe, and North America. There are surprises in country distribution for the entire dataset. Russia leads with 75, with three in the top 200. Japan has 73 and seven in the top 200. The U.S. has 45. One U.S. university is in the top 20 and nine are in the top 100. MIT is the only top 20 U.S. university to participate. China has 13 institutions The highest ranked Chinese university is Shanghai University at 94. Iran has 27 and only one is in the top 300. Indonesia has 18 with four in the top 100. See Table 2 for the top in each region.
With a four way tie for SDG 9, Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, 18 different universities fill the number one spot. Seven are from Europe and North America, four from Oceania and one each from the Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. See Table 3 for the top universities from three regions, East Asia, Oceania, and the rest of the world for each SDG. Indonesian and Thai universities are tops in Asia with four SDGs each. Two women’s universities, one from Saudi Arabia and another from Pakistan, rank top for SDG 5, Gender Equality.
In 2021, the number of Asian universities in the top 100 decreased from 17 to 14. An additional 28 ranked 101-200. The University of Tokyo is the only highly ranked Asian university in the top 100 in the Impact. See Table 4 for 2020 and 2021 Asian universities in top 100. Only six universities were top 100 overall in 2020 and 2021. Two were from Korea and Indonesia and one each from Malaysia and Iran. Thailand has 25 universities and China has 13 and none of their research universities. Only Japan, in east Asia, is a major participant with 73 universities.
Things to remember when evaluating THE impact rankings:
1- All universities who teach at undergraduate or graduate levels can contribute. Although research metrics are part of the methodology, there is no research requirement for participation.
2 – If you are really interested in drilling down into the rankings, download the full research methodology, which explains the methodology for each SDG in detail (Ross). All you as a user will see is a rank and a score. I always check the data presented in THE’s public relations releases before presenting them in an article.
3 – Universities choose to participate. Harvard, Oxford, Tsinghua, and most other top universities have chosen not to participate. Their absence does not mean they are not engaged in SDGs.
4 – Performance on SDGs should not be the only factors in evaluating universities.
More universities are choosing to participate, as SDGs and sustainability are becoming more important. With the third release, the concept still exceeds the results.
This is the place to go if you are looking for rankings where the same familiar names do not always rise to the top. We want metrics that are stable such as the bibliometrics from Clarivate or Elsevier. Using the bibliometrics, the same universities are at the top. THE Impact rankings do not rely on third party metrics but on input directly from the institutions. That makes these rankings interesting but not stable and still does not answer the question “Who is the world’s most impactful university?”
I am preparing an article that is researching other new rankings’ metrics to meet new university roles.
Ruth’s Rankings SDG Timeline
January 2019 – Ruth’s Rankings 38: Coming attractions: The UN’s sustainable development goals and Times Higher Education Innovation and Impact Rankings Demystified https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-38-coming-attractions-un-sustainable-development-goals-times-higher-education-innovation-impact-rankings-demystified/
July 2019 – Ruth’s Rankings 41: THE’s university impact rankings and sustainable development goals: Are these the most impactful universities in the world? https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-41-thes-university-impact-rankings-sustainable-development-goals-impactful-universities-world/
April 2020 – RR Update THE Releases the 2020 impact rankings based on Sustainable Development Goals: Has anything changed? https://librarylearningspace.com/releases-2020-impact-rankings-based-sustainable-development-goals-anything-changed-ruths-rankings-update/
March 2021 – Exciting new features from Clarivate and Elsevier and updates to university rankings https://librarylearningspace.com/exciting-new-features-from-clarivate-and-elsevier-and-updates-to-university-rankings-ruths-rankings-news-update-winter-2021/
Times Higher Education Impact Methodology:
Summary (14 April 2021) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/impact-rankings-2021-methodology
Ross, D (14 Impact Rankings methodology v 1.3.
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