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University rankings: Why the University of Vienna is falling ever lower

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In the current world university ranking of the Times Higher Education (THE) the University of Vienna has slipped further, from 162nd to 170th place. The University of Vienna does not come off badly in other rankings either, but apart from the Quacquarelli Symonds Ranking (QS Ranking) nowhere better than last year.

After all, the University of Vienna is the only one of the 21 Austrian universities to be among the 200 best universities in the world in the THE ranking. The University of Innsbruck, the University and TU Graz and the University of Linz are among the top 400.

Ranking to aid decision-making

When the first university ranking was published in 1983 by the “U.S. News & World Report ”, only high school graduates should be given guidance on which university to apply to. In contrast to the USA or Great Britain, however, students in Austria do not use rankings to decide at which university they want to study.

Why are Austria's universities doing so badly?

In Austria there is generally a chronic underfunding of universities. Problems with the uniform financing of university places, but also the lack of admission rules at many institutes, are mentioned as possible reasons for the poor performance. The supervisory relationship between students and teachers also leaves a lot to be desired in Austria: there are 225 students for every professor at the University of Vienna. For comparison: in Munich there are 58, in Zurich 50. Times Higher Education Ranking (THE) A total of 13 indicators are taken into account in the THE ranking, from surveys of academics about learning requirements to research. In the first THE ranking in 2004, the University of Vienna came 94th. Today it would be a cheer, because this year it landed at number 170. The THE list has been dominated by elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford for nine years.

Austria shines in the QS ranking

In contrast to the THE ranking, the Quacquarelli Symonds Ranking (QS) also evaluates according to individual specialist areas. Everything here depends on four different factors: an academic survey, surveys of employers, the ratio of students to teachers and the proportion of international students / researchers / teachers. In the “QS Ranking 2013”, the only Austrian university among the top 200 is again the University of Vienna at 158th place out of 800. Geography, philosophy and linguistics make it into the top 50 subjects at the University of Vienna. At the Vienna University of Technology, the fields of computer science, mathematics, electrical engineering and chemistry are represented in the top 200. The Vienna University of Economics and Business excels in economics, the University of Graz in foreign languages ​​and the TU Graz in electrical engineering.

Shanghai Ranking often criticized

The Shanghai Ranking was developed in 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and focuses on natural sciences. The humanities and social sciences are neglected in the rankings. That pulls the University of Vienna down a lot. The Shanghai ranking is often criticized by experts because only English-language publications, prizes and awards are taken into account. Although this reflects the reputation of the university, it says nothing about the quality of the research.

Proud of the University of Vienna?

All lists are dominated by the USA and England: Harvard, Oxford, Stanford. Asian universities are also moving ever closer to the top of the rankings. And although the University of Vienna does not do that well in a global comparison and has to improve in many areas, it can be proud to be the only Austrian university to be represented in all lists.

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Comment from Stefan Weiss

Why you shouldn't take university rankings too seriously.

Every few months they haunt the media again: university rankings. As a rule, they do not bring the students anything. Above all, they play into the hands of competition fanatics in politics, business and science. In the USA, the practice has established itself to buy one of the top places in the rankings. High tuition fees allow US universities to bring the supposedly best and most expensive scientists into their homes. The costs of the competition are passed on to the students. A "Race to the Top", not only in the rankings, but also in terms of the study costs of each individual. In the case of Austria, the university rankings are similar to the FIFA world rankings: There is no differentiated view. Sure, in football it is ultimately results that count, but the list does not provide any information on how progressively a team has progressed in its development. Austria's universities do some excellent work that is not reflected in the rankings, because constancy and great prestige victories count more than partial successes.

This article was written by Lena Widmann and published on November 4th, 2013.

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