Dean’s blog episode 19: Faculty at place 10 of best European Law Faculties in Times Higher Education ranking
Our Faculty ranks high in the latest Times Higher Education Subject ranking. We are at place 10 in Europe and at place 40 worldwide. What does this mean?
In 2005 the Leiden law professor Hans Nieuwenhuis wrote a wonderful editorial entitled: “Een nieuw kinderspel: ranking.” (A new child’s play: ranking). In this editorial, he was critical of the practice of ranking law authors on basis of citations or downloads. Nieuwenhuis’ conclusion was just as clear as the title he gave his article: “Ranking? Stop it with these infantile antics!” Although Nieuwenhuis was certainly right in claiming that any quantitative score cannot replace assessment of quality, today’s university is hard to imagine without rankings. Not only academics, also universities and faculties are regularly classified on basis of quantitative data.
An important ranking is the annual The Times Higher Education World University Ranking. It not only contains a ranking of the 500 best universities in the world (Maastricht University ranking 127), but also a ranking of law schools. Last week the THE ranking for 2020 was published. Stanford Law School ranks first, followed by Cambridge, Yale, Oxford and Chicago. Interestingly, the first 26 law schools are all in English-speaking countries or territories. Our Faculty ranks at place 40, up from place 61 in 2018 and 46 in 2019. No less than four law faculties from The Netherlands are in the top 40: next to Maastricht these are Leiden, Amsterdam (UvA) and Utrecht. The only other law school on the European continent in the top 40 is Leuven (at spot 31). The first German law faculty (Frankfurt) ranks at place 43. Within Europe, our Faculty is at place 10, six places up compared to last year. For the statistics: of the six faculties within UM, Law ranks highest. If one only looks at the ranking of young universities, we rank second in the world (behind City University Hong Kong). This is important because reputation tends to play a large role in these types of rankings: the older the university, the higher its reputation tends to be.
How to assess this ranking? Should we be happy? Next to the objections of Nieuwenhuis, we all know how it works with such rankings. Who does well, tells the world; who drops in the ranking, keeps it silent. We therefore proudly shared the news on our website and via Twitter. However, more important than the place in the ranking are the underlying data and whether we can learn anything from these. What is the methodology of THE ranking? The ranking is based on 13 performance indicators that each have their own weighting. For the subject ranking law, teaching (learning environment, reputation, staff to student ratio, doctorates awarded to staff) counts for 32,7%, research (volume, income and reputation) for 30,8%, citations for 25%, international outlook for 9% and industry income for 2,5%. The UM scores very high for international outlook (fifth place worldwide with 92,4), ranks a little below place 40 for teaching (64,8) and research (62,2), and for citations (32,9) clearly below average.
The ultimate question is whether we can influence the place in the ranking ourselves and, if so, whether we should try. UM scores low on citations. This is not a topic for which miracles can be expected from legal academics, who lack a good instrument for citation analysis. Influencing the staff to student ratio (for UM 18,6 students per staff member) and the number of publications is possible in theory, but requires serious investments. We do make efforts on this. The only healthy attitude towards rankings seems to take them for what they are: a child’s play, so fun if one wins.
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