Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ranking Web of Universities

Various rankings of universities have been published. These use a combination of research publications, status of university staff and some measures of teaching quality. This can influence a student's choice of an institution and so is taken very seriously by university administrators. One interesting variation is the Ranking Web of Universities (Webometrics Ranking), which bases it assessment on the university's web presence. Apart from making the process more automated, this more closely mimics a world where academics get information on-line, not from traditional publications. Interestingly the results from Webometrics are not so different from the ranking produced by more labor intensive and traditional methods.

In the latest Webometrics, the top ranking Australian university is the Australian National University (ANU) at 76 in the world. The overall rank is compued from three components: Presence Rank: 335, Impact Rank: 96, Openness Rank: 110, Excellence Rank: 131.

ANU is followed in the Webometrics list for Australia by: University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, Monash University, University of Queensland. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings  has University of Melbourne before ANU,  then University of Sydney, University of Queensland and University of New South Wales, with Monash University relegated to sixth place. The Academic Ranking of World Universities has the University of Western Australia displacing Monash for fifth place.

While universities would need to make large investments in research over many years to improve their ranking in traditional systems, it should be much simpler and cheaper for university administrators to improve the Webometrics rank. This is because web "presence" and "openness" are two of the four criteria used.

Administrators may not be able to get researchers to do research any quicker or to write better papers, but they can improve the university's web site and access to on-line publications. The web sites can be improved by using web accessibility guidelines, so that web pages are easy to access. Also universities can pay the additional publication fees to have journal papers made open access, so that readers don't need to pay a subscription to read them.

Often marketing and graphic design staff produce complex, hard to access web designs, in the mistaken belief these will appeal more to readers. What in fact happens is that web search engines can't index the content and people, particularly using mobile devices can't read the documents. It is better to use simple web formats.

Researchers will choose the most prestigious journals to publish their papers. However, these publications tend not to be "open access" and require a subscription to read the articles. Some journals offer to make individual papers open access if an additional fee is paid by the author. But academic are reluctant to pay these fees, unless there is a requirement from their institution (and a special grant) to do so. As a result these closed access papers tend to be read and cited less than open access ones, simply because they are harder to get on-line.

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