Measuring HE ethics: An inclusive new ranking is launched

It has been 18 years in the making, but a new university ranking based on “enriched student learning, inspired leadership and commitment to sustainability and integrity” has finally seen the light of day.

The new University Ranking (GUR), launched on 16 November 2022 with University World News as the media partner, claims to provide a unique global ranking instrument that places values, ethics and sustainability as central principles of higher education institutions worldwide.

It encompasses themes not previously captured in other higher education ranking instruments, including the aspirations of students and the values of institutions.

“We are proposing a new higher education framework to assess key stakeholders on integrity, values-driven leadership and sustainability commitment,” Dr Aftab Dean, director of the University Ranking, told University World News.

At the launch, Professor Christoph Stueckelberger, the founder and president of, a not-for-profit higher education organisation based in Switzerland, told his international online audience that while global rankings had “positive elements in stimulating competition and quality”, the main rankings were heavily skewed towards the West, biased towards research outputs, and excluded 95% of higher education institutions.

Looking at the three main rankings – the QS World University Rankings, the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and those produced by Times Higher Education – the “top 100s tended to be dominated by the same universities”.

Their methodology “is not holistic, but elitist” and UNESCO had suggested they “did more harm than good”, claimed Stueckelberger.

While that was a stronger verdict than he might make, he warned that existing rankings can be harmful if they become the primary source of information for parents in, say, Nigeria or China, when searching for the best universities to which to send their children to study abroad.

Stueckelberger said the focus of the first rankings had been on developing and transition countries in order to rate their quality education and show that good universities can be found outside the United States and United Kingdom and around the globe when it comes to ethical standards – a reality he hoped might help to reduce brain drain.

Western bias of traditional rankings

Dean, who was commissioned to evaluate and analyse the responses and develop student evaluation instruments, said traditional rankings relied too much on “secondary data”, such as publication in select journals which were biased towards Western higher education institutions, as were some of the weightings they set.

“They look at things like the number of Nobel Prize winners and nine out of the top 10 countries for Nobel Prizes come from the West.”

For example, the Shanghai ranking or ARWU gives a 10% weighting to the number of alumni with Nobel Prizes and Field Medals and 20% to the number of staff at the institution with a Nobel Prize.

“At the same time, the 20% weighting for highly cited research is based on papers published by Nature and Science and the top 10 institutes that published the most in Nature and Science are dominated by institutes from the US, with seven, and Europe, with three,” Dean told University World News.

Dean also questioned whether reputational rankings are based disproportionately on responses from a selection of experienced published scholars in Western universities and whether there is enough transparency over who is responding.

“Academics can only provide assessment on institutes they are familiar with,” he told University World News. “Knowledge of other universities in developing and underdeveloped countries is very limited. Just because they don’t have the resources of the West does not mean they are not producing something with intellectual punch.”

He said recognises the value and importance of the major rankings for their contribution to the research agendas of leading universities, which is critical. But there was more that could be measured than just research and teaching quality using secondary data.

“Let’s not have a binary view of higher education where institutions are considered either research or non-research universities. We are saying universities are multidimensional and should be viewed holistically.”

That was the starting point for developing a new methodology focusing on students and staff as key stakeholders for the new rankings, he explained.

Dean said he and the team had been “overwhelmingly cautious” when testing the new measurement instruments designed for the first rankings, which were pilot-tested in five countries in the first year.

In the first year of data collection, his team deleted 3% of responses from the dataset collected from institutes representing 38 countries due to missing institute data and considerable effort was put into “the hierarchy of weightings” for the main tables which look at the student and staff experience in relation to institutional commitment to ethical goals.

Students were evaluated on which of the following learning, social and aspirational experiences – teaching, assessment, skills development, social experiences and aspirations – resulted in stronger commitment to integrity and pursuing sustainability activities.

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