49.3 How to rank universities from sustainability perspective?

Rebeka Lukman , Dept of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Damjan Krajnc , Dept of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Peter Glavič , Dept of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
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  • How to rank universities from sustainability perspective?

    Rebeka Lukman, Damjan Krajnc and Peter Glavič[1]

    University of Maribor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Smetanova 17, SI–2000 Maribor


    Ranking of universities is a global phenomenon with more than 25 years of history. Higher education ranking tables are published not only by the private and media-based sectors, but also by the professional associations and governments (UNESCO CEPES, 2007). Many ranking tables exist to evaluate performances at universities, using various indicators in order to objectively assess the excellence of universities. Most designers of rankings tables have started by collecting data of the universities that are believed to be indicators of quality. After allocating each a different, predetermined weight, the indicators are added-up to give a total score that determines a university's rank. But there are vast differences between ranking tables in number and nature of indicators, as well as the way the data are obtained (Enserink, 2007). Rankings have been criticized for questionable and flawed methodologies. Marginson (2007) argues that ranking tables conceal a whole array of methodological problems and anomalies. It is often unclear why a particular definition was chosen, how well it was founded, by whom it was decided and how open and reflective the decision process was (RFSU, 2008). Furthermore, existing rankings generally have numerous inaccuracies. They do not include teaching quality, student outcomes, lifelong learning, e-learning. Also, assessing the impact of educational process on students is so far an unexplored area (Altbach, 2006). Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) ranking tables exhaustively compare the research achievements (number of citations, number of scientific publications) of universities. On the other hand THES only marginally touches the quality of education. Therefore, universities focusing on social sciences, humanities and engineering suffer under ARWU and THES ranking systems and occupy lower positions. Indicators, such as knowledge transfer, number of published textbooks or patents are not taken under consideration. These two ranking tables also do not consider the environmental issues of universities. In contrast, many environmental problems, such as pollution, climate change, and non-sustainable consumption exist, and many universities are monitoring their environmental footprints.

    This paper introduces a model, which would enable a comparison between universities regarding economic (research expenditure, highly cited researchers, etc.), social (graduation rate, foreign student's rate, etc.) and environmental performances (environmental commitments, sustainability or environmental oriented programmes, etc.). The purpose is to provide simplified information about the qualities of the universities regarding sustainable development issues. This model enables a quick detection of the weaknesses, advantages and improvement options for universities. Weights of indicators were determined with an analytical hierarchical process (AHP). Results of the AHP have shown that the most important are research oriented indicators, followed by social and environmental ones.

    The model will be tested on a sample of at least 20 top universities from the ARWU and THES ranking tables, published in 2008. These results are to be compared with the results of the 20 best ranked universities from the ARWU and THES ranking tables, published in 2006, in order to follow their improvement, regarding sustainability issues. As a result, a new ranking table is to be designed, where more sustainable universities will be placed in the higher positions. In addition, correlations will be carried out between indicators and ranking tables.


    Altbach PG. 2004. Higher Education Crosses Borders, Change (March-April).

    Enserink M. 2007. Who Ranks the University Rankers? Science. 317, 1026–1028.

    Marginson S. 2007. Global University Rankings: Implications in General and for Australia. J. Higher Educ. Pol. Manage. 29 (2), 131–142.

    RFSU – The Ranking Forum of Swiss Universities (2008). Ranking methodology: How are universities ranked? Available online: http://www.universityrankings.ch/en

    UNESCO CEPES, European Centre for Higher Education. Higher Education Ranking Systems and methodologies: How They Work, What They Do. Available online: http://www.cepes.ro/hed/policy/ranking.htm

    [1] Corresponding author. Tel.: + 386 2 2294 451, Email: peter.glavic@uni-mb.si, Fax: + 386 2 2527 744