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The Google College Rankings

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The population of Malaysia is more than 25 million, and the country has a growing higher-education sector. What can we discover about the rankings of Malaysian universities by using Google?

If we do an English-language search first, asking google.com.my to return results for the word university, we get this top-ten listing:

  1. University of Malaya
  2. Open University Malaysia
  3. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)
  4. University Putra Malaysia
  5. Multimedia University
  6. Sunway Campus, Monash University
  7. Malaysia Campus, University of Nottingham
  8. Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman
  9. HELP University College
  10. International Islamic University Malaysia

As always, this ranking is prepared with a clean browser, so pre-established Google-preferences don’t influence the result, and it is assembled using light bio-neural filtering.

It’s interesting to see the second-ranking institution here is an open university—largely online, and catering to non-traditional students. Open University Malaysia is less than ten years old and already has more than 70,000 students, “a record of some sort.” Given that Google’s ranking system depends upon a large interlinked web presence, and on external links pointing to the institution’s own pages, it isn’t surprising that a university with a big online division would rank highly. We may well see this pattern intensify as time goes on.

If we switch from English to Bahasa Malaysia and search for the word universiti, we get quite a different ranking:

  1. Universiti Sains Malaysia
  2. Universiti Putra Malaysia
  3. University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
  4. Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
  5. University of Malaya
  6. Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS
  7. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  8. Universiti Pedidikan Sultan Idris
  9. Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia
  10. Multimedia University

Most of these institutions may not care whether they rank highly on English-language searches for the word university rather than universiti, but a simple change to the HTML title of their home pages that added the English name after the Bahasa Malaysia name—such a change might well put them in the top ten for both languages, increasing their international exposure.

We’ve only looked at one African university system previously, so let’s now look at another.

What can Google tell us about the rankings of universities in Kenya? As a former British colony, Kenya has a strong English-speaking community. If we begin with an English-language search of google.co.ke for the word university, this is the top-ten list we get:

  1. University of Nairobi
  2. Moi University
  3. Kenyatta University
  4. Maseno University
  5. Egerton University
  6. Strathmore University
  7. Maseno University
  8. Catholic University of Eastern Africa
  9. United States International University
  10. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

This list demonstrates one of the advantages of our custom bio-neural filtering system also. Both Strathmore University and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa are located in Nairobi, but they happen to have registered their websites under .edu domains rather than .ac.ke domains. An automated system might mistakenly include them in U.S. rankings and exclude them from Kenyan rankings.

Google does permits us to search in Kiswahili, where the usual word for university is chuo kikuu. But because the Kenyan higher-education sector is so dominated by English, this search turns up very little in the way of rankable university listings (although it does identify many top universities in Tanzania, where chuo kikuu is a common textual designator).

Can Google give us any insight into the ranking of universities in China? Yes indeed, it can.

As is our practice here at the Google College Rankings, we will use a clean browser, not logged-in to any Google services, and we will search google.cn both on the English word university and on the Chinese word 大学.

Our English-language search yields this ranking:

  1. Tsinghua University
  2. Peking University
  3. Fudan University
  4. Nankai University
  5. Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  6. Yunnan University
  7. Tongji University
  8. Nanjing University
  9. Zhe Jiang University
  10. Wuhan University

And the Chinese-language search gives us this list, which has many institutions in common with the English-language list:

  1. Xiamen University (厦门大学)
  2. Tsinghua University (清华大学)
  3. East China Normal University (华东师范大学)
  4. Sun Yat-sen University (中山大学)
  5. Peking University (北京大学)
  6. Shandong University (山东大学)
  7. Zhe Jiang University (浙江大学)
  8. Wuhan University (武汉大学)
  9. Shanghai Jiao Tong University (上海交通大学)
  10. Guangzhou University (广州大学)

These lists illustrate both the value and the limitations of university rankings, and also the reason why rankings will always be with us. I’m sorry to say that I know very little about universities in China. Where would I go to learn? Knowing very little, I have no grounds for comparison, and no background knowledge to draw upon. Lists like these offer a natural starting point. No reader should take them as definitive—indeed, the concept of a “definitive” university ranking is foolish. But for an inexperienced outside observer, these initial listings are as good as any, and they can serve as a basis for learning more about higher education in the most populous nation in the world.

Following up our intensive analysis of college football rankings, today we’ll take a look at college basketball rankings using our Google-method of ranking.

One of the purposes of this method is to encourage people not to take rankings too seriously. But in doing this, we can also sometimes reveal interesting things about the structure of higher education.

As with the football rankings, the first thing to remember is that when people talk about college basketball in the U.S. they really mean university basketball. So we might be tempted to search in Google for the phrase university basketball and see what institutions come out on top. But as we saw with football, the SERPs that we get from this query have almost nothing to do with colleges and universities: they’re all commercial junk from .com’s, not .edu’s.

We’ll get something more interesting—more interesting to chew on—if we restrict our search to .edu domains. If we do that, this is the ranking we get:

  1. Bradley University Athletics
  2. Cornell University Basketball, 1957-1985
  3. Lawrence University Basketball
  4. Faulkner University Basketball
  5. Villanova University Basketball Ticket Lottery
  6. Bluffton University Basketball Day for November 2008
  7. Montclair State University Basketball Camp for Girls (pdf)
  8. Maryville University Basketball
  9. Purdue University Archives
  10. American University Basketball News

Amusingly, a number of the top-ranking pages in this phrase-based search are not actually pages for the teams: Cornell’s is a page of basketball films from the university archives; Villanova’s is a page on how to get tickets; Bluffton’s is a page about a campus holiday from a year ago; and Montclair State’s is a page about a summer camp. Is “university basketball” really part of the educational life of these institutions and all the associated websites, offices, and prgrams that go along with that educatonal life? It doesn’t look like it.

But perhaps the phrase-based search for “university basketball” expects too much. If we loosen it and search just for the separate words university and basketball on all .edu domains, we get something that looks a bit more focused:

  1. University of Chicago Men’s Basketball
  2. Lawrence University Men’s Basketball
  3. Fontbonne University Men’s Basketball
  4. Franciscan University of Steubenville Men’s Basketball
  5. Holy Family University Men’s Basketball
  6. Taylor University Men’s Basketball
  7. Oglethorpe University Men’s Basketball
  8. University at Buffalo Men’s Basketball
  9. Transylvania University Men’s Basketball
  10. Nebraska Wesleyan University Men’s Basketball

Here we do get the websites of teams, and we see why the phrase-based search didn’t turn out quite as expected: the top-ranking team pages are all self-identified as men’s basketball. Not a single women’s team appears in the Google-ranked top-ten. That’s not because of Google: it’s because of how the universities themselves structure and link their websites, and how other people link to them. Google’s ranking just reflects that structure and that pattern of linking.

It’s also revealing that none of the “big names” in national college basketball really appear in these rankings. The reason for that is clear also: they are so commercialized that their university connections are virtually irrelevant.

We take a momentary digression from our usual Google obsession to recommend a handy document that anyone interested in American colleges and universities ought to have: the “Professor Pathfinder” U.S. College and University Reference Map, published by Hedberg Maps, Inc.

I have one and keep it by my desk. It’s great for browsing and for imaginative exploration of the American higher education landscape. (And it’s an ideal reference for high school counselors advising their students on college admissions, also.)

People selecting colleges and universities often focus too much on the top-ranking institutions, when there are many fine schools to be found in wonderful locations all across the country. These places are often known regionally but not nationally, and the “Professor Pathfinder” map is a great tool for discovering them.

Looking for a college along the mighty Mississippi? How about a university on the shores of the Great Lakes? Or a Rocky Mountain college, or one on the coast of California? Browse the national educational landscape with this map and find a place to fit your preferences.

Here at the Google College Rankings we use the Google search engine to gain insights into the relative standing of colleges and universities around the world. (Read more about our approach.) As the month of May arrives, let’s take another look at one of the standard rankings many people look for: the best universities in the United States.

In preparing this ranking we always work with a “clean” web browser, because if you’re logged-in to Google with your regular browser and have Google cookies stored, the results you get may be tailored to your previous search preferences. A clean browser, with no stored cookies and not logged-in to any Google accounts, will give us more neutral information. (Even so, Google may still try to customize your results with geotargeting. They think it’s a feature; we think it’s a bug, at least if you can’t turn it off.)

Our best attempt to get a neutral and national result (necessarily filtered through our own advanced bio-neural systems, independent of Google), yields this ranking for the 1st of May:

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Virginia
  3. University of Michigan
  4. Stanford University
  5. University of Washington
  6. Princeton University
  7. University of Wisconsin–Madison
  8. Yale University
  9. University of Chicago
  10. University of California, Los Angeles

These are all fine institutions, and a dedicated student could get a first-rate education at any of them. One of our purposes here is to encourage people not to take college rankings too seriously, and to recognize that many factors should be considered by any prospective student. Is this ranking somehow “correct” while the U.S. News ranking is “wrong”? No, but neither is our ranking here wrong; it is based on one set of criteria, while the U.S. News rankings are based on different criteria.

In selecting a university from the above list, the individual characteristics of each institution are far more important than absolute rank. Do you want to be on a giant campus in a big city? Then UCLA might be for you. Do you want to be in the cold north or the mild south? Depending on your answer you might want to consider either the University of Wisconsin or the University of Virginia. Do you want California sunshine or east-coast urbanity? Stanford and Harvard would be a contrasting pair on that scale.

The Google rankings offered here are a starting point—a good, authentic starting point—but they shouldn’t be decisive in any college search, and neither should be the rankings offered by anyone else.

We have surveyed the universities in quite a few European countries here at the Google College Rankings, so today on the 1st of May it might be interesting to look at them in summary view.

In Denmark, the top three are:

  1. Københavns Universitet
  2. Aalborg Universitet (AAU)
  3. Aarhus Universitet

The top Google-ranked universities in Finland are:

  1. Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki)
  2. Tampereen yliopisto (University of Tampere)
  3. Jyväskylän yliopisto (University of Jyväskylä)

In France this is the top group:

  1. Université de Nantes
  2. Université de Poitiers
  3. Université d’Orléans

The German top-three universities are:

  1. Universität Hamburg
  2. Universität Heidelberg
  3. Universität Leipzig

In Ireland our search for university (as opposed to college) yields:

  1. University of Limerick
  2. University College Dublin
  3. Dublin City University

In Norway we find:

  1. Universitetet i Oslo
  2. Universitetet i Bergen
  3. Universitetet i Stavanger

In Poland these are at the top:

  1. Uniwersytet Wrocławski (University of Wroclaw)
  2. Uniwersytet Warszawski (University of Warsaw)
  3. Uniwersytet Łódzki (University of Lodz)

The top Spanish universidades are:

  1. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)
  2. Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV)
  3. Universidad de Granada

Google’s top-ranking Swedish universities are:

  1. Stockholms universitet (Stockholm University)
  2. Umeå universitet (Umeå University)
  3. Göteborgs universitet (University of Gothenburg)

And in the U.K. (Great Britain), this is the top group:

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of Birmingham

These are all drawn from local-language searches; as we have seen, the results of local-language searches and English-language searches (on the word university) often differ.

Can Google give us college football rankings? Of course it can! Google can rank anything.

And these rankings are unlike the ones you’ll find anywhere else.

First of all, when people in the United States talk about college football what they really mean is university football. So what can we discover if we search Google for the phrase university football? Well, the first thing we discover is that almost nothing that turns up really comes from either a college or a university—it’s all commercial marketing junk with hardly a .edu domain in the whole list. Wading through all that would severely tax our advanced bio-neural filtering system, so let’s make Google do the work and search for the phrase university football on .edu domains only. Now we’re getting somewhere:

  1. Tufts University Football
  2. Taylor University Football
  3. Bloomsburg University Football
  4. St. Lawrence University Football
  5. Harvard University Football
  6. Lawrence University Football
  7. DePauw University Football
  8. Ferris State University Football
  9. Hamline University Football
  10. Pittsburg State University Football

So what are we looking at here? Of course we’re not looking at a ranking of the teams, but at a ranking of football program websites. And the fact that none of the big names in “college” football appear here demonstrates that those big-name programs really aren’t part of the university, but are just independent commercial enterprises. At the universities listed above, the football programs are part of the regular campus like everything else. And that tells you that if you’re a good student who just happens to be really into playing football for the enjoyment of it, these schools may be ones you should consider.

And I confess I had to look some of them up to find out where they are: Tufts is a well-known university in Massachusetts; Taylor University is in Upland, Indiana; and Bloomsburg University is in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Let’s get these teams together for a grand Google-league playoff!

Continuing our Google-review of the best universities in Europe, what can we discover about universities in Denmark?

As usual, we can conduct our investigation (with a clean browser) by searching either in the local language—for the Danish word universitet—or in English—for the word university.

When we search in Danish, and apply the customary bio-neural filtering, we get this top-six ranking from Google:

  1. Københavns Universitet
  2. Aalborg Universitet (AAU)
  3. Aarhus Universitet
  4. Syddansk Universitet
  5. Roskilde Universitet – Forside
  6. Danmarks Tekniske Universitet (DTU)

It should be noted that in the raw results from google.dk, the majority of the top-ranking universities are actually in Sweden, since the Swedish word universitet is identical to the Danish word, and the Swedish universities rank higher overall. (Sorry, Denmark.)

What if we search google.dk for university instead of universitet? The institutions are the same, but the rankings shift around a bit:

  1. Aalborg University
  2. University of Copenhagen
  3. University of Aarhus
  4. Technical University of Denmark
  5. Roskilde Universitet
  6. University of Southern Denmark

As one would expect from well-designed international websites, these are all specially-written English-language pages, distinct from the Danish-language pages that come up in the Danish search. And interestingly, in the raw results that google.dk provides when searching for university as opposed to universitet, the Swedish institutions that populated the Danish-language SERPs are gone.

What can the Google-ranking method tell us about universities in New Zealand? If we follow our standard approach, starting with a clean browser and searching google.co.nz for the word university, this is the top-eight ranking we get (after the usual highly advance bio-neural filtering has been applied):

  1. University of Auckland
  2. University of Canterbury
  3. Massey University
  4. University of Otago
  5. University of Waikato
  6. Victoria University of Wellington
  7. AUT University
  8. Lincoln University

There is one important design principle illustrated by this list: the World Wide Web really is worldwide, and people in any region often forget that visitors may arrive at their websites from far-away places indeed. Such visitors may not know about local institutions, no matter how prominent those institutions are one’s own region or country. I’m afraid I had no idea what “AUT University” was. (Australian University of Technology? But this is supposed to be New Zealand.) The Google snippet tells me that it’s “New Zealand’s most dynamic University,” and that it “offers courses in computing, science, business, engineering, teaching, health, fine arts, applied arts…,” but it still doesn’t tell me its full name. I have to go to the page itself, and even then I have to scroll down to the fine print at the bottom of the page to discover that AUT stands for Auckland University of Technology (and so the page title “AUT University” stands for “Auckland University of Technology University”). This same problem was found in our first attempt to rank Australian universities: what was “RMIT University”? It may be true that everyone in Australia knows, but not everyone searching the web is from Australia.

New Zealand is a small country, and the rankings above pretty much cover the whole “Kiwi” higher education sector. Will they remain stable over time? By querying Google again in the future we will be able to tell.

US News recently released its ranking of American law schools. Their top ten are: (1) Yale Law School; (2) Harvard Law School; (3) Stanford Law School; (4) Columbia Law School; (5) New York University Law School; (6) a tie between the University of California Law School (Boalt Hall) and the University of Chicago Law School; (8) the University of Pennsylvania Law School; (9) the University of Michigan Law School; and (10) a three-way tie between Duke University Law School, Northwestern University Law School, and the University of Virginia Law School.

How does this ranking compare to Google’s American law school rankings for the month of April? As always, we calculate Google’s ranks using a clean browser and with appropriate filtering applied:

  1. Harvard Law School
  2. Suffolk University Law School
  3. Columbia Law School
  4. Boston College Law School
  5. Yale Law School
  6. Stanford Law School
  7. The University of Michigan Law School
  8. The University of Minnesota Law School
  9. The University of Chicago Law School
  10. The University of Pennsylvania Law School

A little experimentation shows that these results are particularly unstable: while Suffolk and Boston College often appear in the top ten in today’s searches, they don’t always, with the top three slots more often fluctuating among Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and Chicago. This latter result is more in line with the Google law school rankings calculated last January, as well as with this month’s US News rankings.

Is the appearance of Suffolk Law and Boston College Law in this list a sign of a more permanent standing to come? Only time will tell. Certainly both institutions offer fine programs and deserve consideration from any prospective students. Suffolk’s comprehensive law program emerged from the distinctively American tradition of night-schools at which ambitious working men could study for legal careers. That’s a proud heritage, and it may well serve as a continuing source of strength.

We have been surveying many Google domains in Europe for insights into the best European universities, so let’s take a look this time at Poland.

Following our usual practice, we can search google.pl either on the English word university (using a clean browser as always, and applying our advanced filtering system), or we can search on the Polish word uniwersytet instead. Let’s start with the local-language rankings:

  1. Uniwersytet Wrocławski
  2. Uniwersytet Warszawski
  3. Uniwersytet Łódzki
  4. Uniwersytet Szczeciński
  5. Uniwersytet Jagielloński
  6. Uniwersytet Gdański
  7. Uniwersytet Rzeszowski - Aktualności
  8. Uniwersytet Opolski
  9. Uniwersytet Âlàski
  10. Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika

The English-language search gives us substantially different results:

  1. University of Warsaw
  2. Jagiellonian University
  3. Gdansk University of Technology
  4. University of Rzeszów
  5. Nicolaus Copernicus University
  6. Wroclaw University
  7. Wroclaw University of Technology
  8. AGH University of Science and Technology
  9. the University of Szczecin
  10. Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan

Only the University of Warsaw appears in the top three in both languages, and the English-language results turn up a number of more technically-oriented schools, which may well devote more of their energies to modern globalized subjects than to traditional historical, literary, and linguistic fields where the local language would occupy pride of place.

Spain has an ancient university heritage, reaching back into the European Middle Ages. What can modern technology tell us about the relative rankings of Spanish universities today?

If we search google.es for the Spanish word universidad we get these rankings, after the appropriate filtering has been applied:

  1. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)
  2. Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV)
  3. Universidad de Granada
  4. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
  5. Universidad de Zaragoza
  6. Universidad de Salamanca
  7. Universidad de Málaga
  8. Universidad de Valladolid
  9. Universidad de Sevilla
  10. Universidad de Oviedo

Because Spanish is spoken in so many countries, the raw results include many other Spanish-speaking universities outside of Spain proper, including the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Universidad de la República in Uruguay, both of which in fact rank higher on google.es than the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

What about English-language results? If we search google.es for the English word university (instead of the Spanish word universidad) this is Google’s top-ten (filtered) list:

  1. University of Navarra
  2. Universitat de Barcelona
  3. University of Valladolid
  4. University of Murcia
  5. University of Alicante
  6. Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV)
  7. University of Santiago de Compostela (USC)
  8. Open University of Catalonia (UOC)
  9. Universitat de València
  10. Ramon Llull University

Close examination of this list points us to something important. While the most common word for university in Spanish is universidad, in the Catalonian dialect (or language) the word is universitat, as in Universitat de Barcelona. By searching above on the word universidad we missed most of the universities in the Catalonian region of Spain. So let’s rectify that by searching google.es on universitat indead of universidad:

  1. Universitat de Barcelona
  2. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  3. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Assembling even this top-three list requires a great deal of bio-neural filtering because Google does not distinguish in its results between the Catalonian universitat and the German Universität. But it does show that the universities of Catalonia have a distinctive standing of their own, independent of the universidades in the rest of Spain.

If we apply the Google-ranking approach to universities in France, what will we discover? A clean browser is essential, as always, so that our own account settings and preferences won’t influence the result. And we can search google.fr either on the French word université or the English word university.

The French-language search gives us these results (after a little advanced bio-neural filtering is applied):

  1. Université de Nantes
  2. Université de Poitiers
  3. Université d’Orléans
  4. Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
  5. Université de Paris 12
  6. Université de Caen Basse-Normandie
  7. Université d’Angers
  8. Université du Maine
  9. [Université de Limoges]
  10. Université de Bourgogne

And embedded within the raw results from which the above list was drawn, it should be noted, were two francophone universities in Canada: the Université de Montréal and Université Laval.

The tentative [Université de Limoges] might rank higher sans brackets.

And here are the English-language rankings from google.fr:

  1. The American University of Paris
  2. University Louis Pasteur – Strasbourg
  3. Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC)
  4. Montpellier 1 University (UM1)
  5. Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University (UVSQ)
  6. Université Paris-Sud 11
  7. Lyon University 2
  8. Université Joseph Fourier
  9. Nice Sophia Antipolis University
  10. Paris Sorbonne University - Paris IV

The lack of overlap between these two listings suggests that the Francophone and Anglophone (or Anglo-friendly) education sectors in France are quite distinct. I don’t believe any of the other countries examined so far have had this much divergence between their local-language university rankings and their English-language rankings.

Germany is the birthplace of the modern research university, and throughout the nineteenth century young people from around the world who were seeking advanced learning traveled to the leading German institutions of that era and brought Germanic research methods and institutional structures back to their home countries.

What can we learn about today’s German universities by examining their Google-rankings? As usual, we can conduct our investigation in English or in the country’s native language.

If we search google.de on the the English word university, this is the filtered ranking we get in return:

  1. Heidelberg University
  2. University of Hamburg
  3. University of Stuttgart
  4. University of Cologne
  5. Universität Tübingen
  6. Universität Leipzig
  7. Universität Bielefeld
  8. Jacobs University Bremen
  9. University of Freiburg
  10. University of Regensburg

It’s interesting that the English-language homepages of both Tübingen and Leipzig use the German name of the institution exclusively in the page <title>. (The Bielefeld entry goes to the German-language homepage.) A simple change of the English-language page titles to “University of Tübingen” and “University of Leipzig” might well push them up higher in these English-focused Google rankings.

Instead of using the English word university, if we search google.de on the German word Universität we get this ranking:

  1. Universität Hamburg
  2. Universität Heidelberg
  3. Universität Leipzig
  4. Universität zu Köln
  5. Universität Potsdam
  6. Universität Dortmund
  7. Universität Regensburg
  8. Universität Rostock
  9. Universität Bremen
  10. Leibniz Universität Hannover

In this case, all the entires go directly to German-language pages (as expected), rather than sometimes to German and sometimes to English pages.

Continuing our survey of universities in Europe, what can the Google-method of ranking tell us about universities in Finland? I know very little about Finnish higher education, so this will be an educational exercise.

As with other multilingual countries, we have a choice of searching in either English or the primary national language. English is widely used in academic circles in Finalnd, but we should certainly try both.

If we search google.fi for the English word university we get this top-ten list (after the usual filtering is applied):

  1. University of Helsinki
  2. University of Jyväskylä
  3. University of Kuopio
  4. University of Oulu
  5. Helsinki University of Technology
  6. University of Turku
  7. University of Vaasa
  8. University of Tampere
  9. University of Joensuu
  10. Tampere University of Technology

If instead we search on the (decidedly non-Indo-European) Finnish term yliopisto we get a somewhat different ranking:

  1. Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki)
  2. Tampereen yliopisto (University of Tampere)
  3. Jyväskylän yliopisto (University of Jyväskylä)
  4. Kuopion yliopisto (University of Kuopio)
  5. Turun yliopisto (University of Turku)
  6. Joensuun yliopisto University of Joensuu)
  7. Avoimen yliopisto (Open University)
  8. Vaasan yliopisto (University of Vaasa)
  9. Tampereen teknillinen yliopisto (Tampere University of Technology)
  10. Lapin yliopisto (University of Lapland)

Most of these universities have detailed websites in both English and Finnish (and often in Swedish as well), and are clearly conscious of the world-wide character of the web (something many other institutions fail to recognize). They all look like wonderful places—I would like to visit every one!

Continuing our survey of top-ranked European universities, what can we learn from Google about universities in Norway? I know very little about Norwegian universities, so this will be an instructive exercise.

If we search google.no for the word university, this is the ranked top-five list we receive in return:

  1. University of Bergen
  2. University of Oslo
  3. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
  4. University Centre in Svalbard
  5. University of Agder

If we search for the Norwegian word universitetet, however, we get a somewhat different ranking:

  1. Universitetet i Oslo
  2. Universitetet i Bergen
  3. Universitetet i Stavanger
  4. Universitetet i Tromsø
  5. Universitetet i Agder

When researching a subject about which we know little (such as Norwegian universities), the importance of well-written microcontent can clearly be seen. Google often (though not always) pulls the so-called meta description element from the <head> of a webpage and displays the contents of that element as the “snippet” shown below the entry for that webpage in the search results. A well-written meta description makes a good impression.

Knowing nothing about the University of Oslo, I can learn from Google’s snippet that “The University of Oslo is Norway’s largest and oldest institution of higher education.” That’s clear and informative: it gives me a sense of the place already. The University of Bergen’s snippet is not so well crafted: “The University of Bergen homepage - information in English concerning: research, courses/programmes.” I know it’s the home page, and the fact that it’s in English is obvious too. The NTNU snippet is just too long: “The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim represents academic eminence in technology and the natural sciences as well as in …” Oops—cut off. It isn’t called microcontent for nothing. But that’s OK, because this snippet sounds less like information and more like marketing puffery anyway.

Details such as these all contribute to the impression an institution makes on visitors (including prospective students). It isn’t always possible to control how your web presence is seen or used by others, but attention to things you can control—like the content of your own descriptive elements—certainly helps. Bergen may be #1 and Oslo #2 in the raw rankings, but the impression I get from their own page designs is that Oslo’s the place that really knows what it’s doing.

This is the first of a series of posts that will establish initial Google-rankings for the universities in a number of European countries. Sweden and Great Britain have already been reviewed, so let’s look at Ireland next.

If we search google.ie in English for the word university, we get the following ranked list of institutions (after applying a little brain filtering):

  1. University of Limerick
  2. University College Dublin
  3. Dublin City University
  4. National University of Ireland, Galway
  5. University College Cork
  6. Trinity College Dublin – The University of Dublin
  7. National University of Ireland, Maynooth

(Ireland is a small country, so I list only seven institutions here.)

A consistent problem in establishing overall rankings with Google is search-term dependence, and that can be seen here because a number of institutions in Ireland—most notably Trinity College, a major international university founded in 1592—make more prominent use of the word college in their names than the word university.

What if we search google.ie for college rather than university? We get the following top-five list:

  1. Trinity College Dublin – The University of Dublin
  2. University College Dublin
  3. Portobello College Dublin
  4. Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
  5. University College Cork

As an illustration of how irregularly the word college is used, this list contains not only major research and teaching universities such as Trinity College, but also a medical school (the Royal College of Surgeons) and a business training school (Portobello College Dublin).

Someone arrived at the Google College Rankings today by searching the web for “college choir rankings.” People have a tremendous urge to rank everything, don’t they? That’s one of the things that makes Google so appealing to people in so many ways.

What can our favorite search engine tell us about the best college choirs and university choirs in the United States? Well, that depends a bit on how we search—on the phrases “college choir” and “university choir” or on the separate words college choir and university choir. But the results of the two different approaches are not all that different, so let’s try the phrase method. The top-ranking college choirs under such a search are:

  1. St. Olaf College Choir
  2. Northwestern College Choir
  3. Knox College Choir
  4. Concordia College Choir
  5. Roanoke College Choir
  6. Centenary College Choir
  7. Dickinson College Choir
  8. St. Anselm College Choir
  9. Adrian College Choir
  10. Wartburg College Choir

And embedded between #3 and #4 in the above list, Google helpfully supplies a video of the choir of Bethany College in West Virginia:

Given the nature of most choral music, it isn’t surprising that a number of these institutions have strong denominational associations or did in the past: St. Olaf College in Minnesota is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, for example, and Knox College in Illinois has historic roots in the Congregational Church.

What about university choirs as opposed to college choirs? Google gives us this top-five ranking:

  1. Harvard University Choir
  2. Morgan State University Choir
  3. Fisk University Choir
  4. University of the South Choir
  5. Howard University Choir

Here it’s interesting to see historically black universities strongly represented: Morgan State, Fisk, and Howard. Both lists demonstrate something important: colleges and universities are never one-dimensional, nor can an overall one-dimensional ranking system—from highest to lowest—ever capture all the opportunities that can be found on every campus. Strengths can be found everywhere (and yes, weaknesses can be found everywhere, too).

Well, for the first week of 2009 at least.

What can Google tell us about the ranks of the top ten universities in the United States at the beginning of 2009? These are the rankings it offers to us as the new year opens:

  1. University of Virginia
  2. Harvard University
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of Michigan
  5. University of Georgia
  6. University of Washington
  7. Duke University
  8. University of Florida
  9. Yale University
  10. Princeton University

Not surprisingly there’s a good deal of overlap with our first attempt at national university ranking, posted last month. The anomalous University of Tennessee at Knoxville—number two last month—is gone. U.S. News places it at 108, and this week Google does not include it in the top 50, so the explanation of its temporarily high position is unclear. Will it return again? Time will tell. But this demonstrates one of the points that we at the Google College Rankings always wish to emphasize: parents and prospective students should study college and university rankings, but they shouldn’t take them too seriously.

In choosing a university from the above top-ten list, for example, there are factors to consider that would far outweigh numerical rank for almost every student. The massive and northern University of Michigan is a sharply different institution from the smaller and very southern Duke University. A student who would flourish at one might well be unhappy at the other. The sunny California culture of Stanford is very different from the crisp New England culture of Harvard. And yet in terms of academic quality, both are outstanding.

Rankings such as these, or the rankings published by any other agency, are a good place to begin your college search. But they should never be the place where your search ends.

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