Shanghai’s academic rankings of world universities (ARWU)

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The ARWU is the most consolidated of the popular university-based global rankings given there have been no changes to the core methodology' of this ranking since 2010 (Rauhvargers, 2014). The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is compiled by researchers at the Centre for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University' (CWCU) (ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, 2003). The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is published and copyrighted by' the independent Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.

The ARWU does not purport to be a holistic university ranking but focuses on the research performance of HEIs because, as argued by' the Shanghai Ranking group, broadly' available and internationally comparable data of measurable research performance is the only' sufficiently reliable data to construct a ranking of the world’s universities (Yat Wai Lo, 2014). The Shanghai Ranking group is of the opinion that, because of the various differences between universities and countries, it is impossible to compare teaching and learning worldwide (Liu &: Cheng, 2005) so they do not think the sort of proxy' measures (student staff ratios) used by QS and THE constitute appropriate measures of learning or teaching quality'. The ARWU is reputed for its stability from year to year (Calderon, 2016; Rauhvargers, 2014) which perhaps renders this ranking less interesting to the media who tend to focus on rankings that show either large rises or falls for universities of interest. ARWU publishes the world’s top 500 universities annually' based on transparent methodology' and third-party' data. In 2017, ARWU added universities ranked between 501 and 800 as ‘ARWU World Top 500 Candidates’ (Wang, 2017). In total, more than 1300 universities were ranked, in the 2017 edition (ShanghaiRanking Consultancy', 2017).

The Shanghai Ranking have expanded their portfolio of rankings offerings to include ARWU-Field rankings and the Global Ranking of Academic Subjects (GRAS)

The Big Three: broad issues and AR WU detail 51 (ShanghaiRanking Consultancy', 2017). ARWU-Field provides the world’s top 200 universities in five broad subject fields, including Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences, Life and Agriculture Sciences, Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy, and Social Sciences (ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, 2003). The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy (2014) argue that its methodology is scientifically sound, stable and transparent (ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, 2003).

ARWU methodology

ARWU scores and ranks universities (individually or into bands) by first gathering separate raw data elements for each institution, the raw data values are then scaled and transformed. The indicator scores are combined to produce a total score used to assign a rank or band to the institution (Docampo, 2013). The ARWU indicators are predominantly focused on research performance (Bekhradnia, 2017; Huang, 2011) and heavily focused on the natural sciences over the social sciences or humanities which has opened the door for criticism (Anowar et al., 2015; Sorz, Fieder, Wallner, & Seidler, 2015).

The majority (five of six) of the criteria used by ARWU are counting criteria. Hence, it should be no surprise that all these criteria are strongly linked to the size of the institution (Anowar et al., 2015; Bekhradnia, 2017). This is associated with a bias in favour of countries which have known few radical political changes since 1901 and those universities with a long history', having kept the same name throughout their existence (Billaut, Bouyssou, & Vincke, 2010). Rewarding the publication of more papers regardless of impact can lead to charges of reinforcing bulk science, salami publication and least publishable unit practices (Patsopoulos et al., 2005). However, Holmes (2017) argues that quantity' is a prerequisite to quality' and enables the achievement of economy of scale. Sorz et al., (2015) analysed the ARWU ranking results and found an extreme pattern of non-linearity' between ranks and scores. Specifically, they demonstrated that the first ranked university' tends to score far ahead of all the others in the ARWU ranking annually.


Transparency in terms of results remains a critical issue for the ARWU and is an area which regularly attracts criticism. Whilst the Shanghai Rankings claims that it uses carefully selected objective criteria which are based on internationally comparable data, they do not make this data publicly available so it is not possible to check authenticity' (Billaut et al., 2010).

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