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Fine-Tuning Institutional Data
Yet another organization is throwing its hat into the university ranking ring: Information experts Thomson Reuters is about to release the Global Institutional Profiles Project. The Project follows an exhaustive data collection process on academic and research institutions around the world.
To be fair, it's not quite accurate to call the Institutional Profiles 'rankings.' The Project is more of a tool for rankings, an institutional database that incorporates scholarly output, funding levels, citation patterns and faculty characteristics. Exported data sets can be customized according to user specifications, allowing research organizations, universities and others to tailor their analyses to their individual needs.
The London-based Times Higher Education magazine will be the first organization to get a crack at the Profiles. They're drawing from Reuters' data for their 2010-2011 World University Rankings, which will be released next week. THE credits the 'fine-grained and advanced' data from Reuters with several universities' movement up and down this year's rankings.
Reuters hopes that the Project will be as useful to the institutions themselves as it is to those evaluating them. Jonathan Adams, Director of Research Evaluation at Reuter, notes that 'Providing institutions with a rounded profile of their activity allows them to compare themselves with peers rather than global averages. This converts data into truly useful management information.' By comparing the details of their own institutional profiles with those of their peers, administrators can truly see where they need to improve.
The Global Institutional Profiles Project was built in several stages. Before they began gathering data, Reuters researchers solicited opinions from academic 'leaders and stakeholders' on current institutional comparisons. They found that current analytic systems are generally perceived as useful, but that many people are concerned about the quality and accuracy of current data indicators and methodology. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of respondents - 74% - reported believing that institutions manipulate their data to improve their ranking.
Reuters used the results of the opinion survey to structure their data collection process. For stage two of the project, they passed around a reputational survey to professional scholars and academics around the world. In order to keep the survey as fine-grained and accurate as possible, they included a disciplinary focus that allowed respondents to highlight the strongest institutions in their fields for both teaching and research.
For stage three, Reuters began to collect factual institutional data ranging from research income to enrollment and faculty statistics. They attempted to preserve some continuity with existing data sources in order to allow for easier comparisons, while expanding their data to offer 'new indicators of performance and more complete institutional pictures.'
The organization is currently engaged in the second-to-last stage, data validation. In the hopes of avoiding the kind of data manipulation that has made some existing ranking systems meaningless in many eyes, Reuters is engaging in thorough fact-checking and data analysis.
Although Reuters describes the Project as 'ongoing,' the data validation process should be nearly complete, as THE has already used available data for their upcoming rankings. Soon Reuters will launch stage five, 'data delivery,' making the database available worldwide.