University rankings failing to account for online learning changes

The Open University is part of new research helping to make rankings better calibrated to post-pandemic teaching methods

University rankings have failed to take into account the increased weight of remote learning in the wake of the pandemic, according to two online HE institutions.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of universities now offer at least some courses that are entirely digital, there is still no online dimension in how institutions are rated and ranked, say researchers from the Open University in the UK and the Barcelona-based Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

Consequently, the pair have been working with Italy’s Institute for Educational Technology to examine the criteria and indicators on which rankings are based, along with identifying new ones to enable online learning to be measured specifically.

Project Codur (creating an online dimension for university rankings) will, they say, both increase fairness and promote competition in online learning among universities.

Part of the importance lies in the fact that a university’s ranking is one of the basic means by which it can position itself internationally, as well as a potential advertising tool to attract both students and funding.

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Funded by the European Union’s Erasmus + programme, Codur is being coordinated by Albert Sangrà, academic director of the UOC UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change.

“We didn’t want to create a new ranking for online universities, because it would have been of limited value,” said Sangrà. “Instead, we set out to identify which criteria or indicators were useful for highlighting the value of these universities.

“By and large, [the current criteria and indicators for rating institutions] benefit the leading universities, which are the ones that organise these rankings. Harvard could be considered better than the University of South Africa because it decides which students it admits – the best ones – while at the University of South Africa all are welcome. This pre-selection affects the subsequent results.”

The team’s proposals are beginning to take effect. U-Multirank, a ratings system currently covering 2,202 institutions from 96 countries, has adopted the multidimensional approach recommended by Codur, while Times Higher Education has partially taken on the suggestions.

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