A Swedish newspaper reports that “Sweden’s National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket) has criticized the ranking of different universities and colleges, arguing the lists don’t help students pick the right school. According to the agency, the rankings do very little to help students distinguish between the differences in quality between different institutes of higher learning.”
Here at the Google College Rankings we agree, in part. One of our reasons for being is to encourage people not to take rankings so seriously. There is no such thing as a perfect ranking of universities, nor could there be. Students should examine a range of factors when selecting a university, whether in Europe or elsewhere, and an institution that is a good fit for one student may not be for another.
But that doesn’t mean that existing ranking systems mean nothing and measure nothing. They measure whatever it is they are designed to measure. We aim to show that this is the case by deriving our own rankings from Google, and demonstrating that they are both helpful and at the same time variable and complex.
Can we offer any insights to the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education? Yes, we can. If we search google.se we can establish a basic ranking of Swedish universities, but this time there will be additional complications. If we search on the Swedish word universitet we get the following ranked list:
- Stockholms universitet (Stockholm University)
- Umeå universitet (Umeå University)
- Göteborgs universitet (University of Gothenburg)
- Växjö universitet (Växjö University)
- Uppsala universitet (Uppsala University)
- Lunds universitet (Lund University)
- Örebro universitet (Örebro University)
- Linköpings universitet (Linköping University)
- Karlstads universitet (Karlstad University)
- Luleå tekniska universitet (Luleå Technical University)
But if we search on the English word university we get this ranked list:
- Lund University (Lunds universitet)
- Linköping University (Linköpings universitet)
- Karlstad University (Karlstads universitet)
- Stockholm University (Stockholms universitet)
- Umeå University (Umeåa universitet)
- University of Gothenburg (Göteborgs universitet)
- Uppsala University (Uppsala universitet)
- Mälardalen University (Mälardalens högskola)
- Växjö University (Växjö universitet)
- Malmö University (Malmö högskola)
The first set of links go to Swedish-language pages, the second set go to English-language pages.
What might we infer from the differences? Some Swedish universities may place stronger emphasis on their online English-language materials than their competitors do, and may appeal more to an international English-speaking audience, while other Swedish universities may have their greatest strengths in Swedish-language offerings. But this is really conjecture. Google makes a great many assumptions about what a user is hoping to find when it delivers its results, and what it is assuming about users who search in Swedish as opposed to English is difficult to determine. But the results themselves exist. Their proper role is to encourage further exploration and comparison on the part of prospective students. I hope that is a conclusion with which the Högskoleverket would agree.