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«EUROPEAN European Science COMMISSION Research Area & society Assessing Europe’s University-Based Research Expert Group on Assessment of ...»

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EUROPEAN European Science

COMMISSION Research Area & society

Assessing Europe’s



Expert Group on Assessment

of University-Based Research

Research Policy EUR 24187 EN

Interested in European research?

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Directorate-General for Research Directorate C - European Research Area: Knowledge-Based Economy Unit C.4 - Universities and Researchers Contact: Adeline Kroll European Commission Office SDME 9/17 B-1049 Brussels Tel. (32-2) 29-85812 Fax (32-2) 29-64287 E-mail: Adeline.Kroll@ec.europa.eu


Assessing Europe’s University-Based Research Expert Group on Assessment of University-Based Research RTD.C4 Directorate-General for Research 2010 Science in Society 2008 Capacities, 1.4.1 EUR 24187 EN EUROPE DIRECT is a service to help you find answers to your questions about the European Union

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Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2010 ISBN 978-92-79-14225-3 ISSN 1018-5593 doi 10.2777/80193 © European Union, 2010 Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.

Printed in Belgium Printed on white chlorine-free PaPer FOREWORD How to create a new and more coherent methodology to assess the research produced by European universities?” This is the question experts were asked to answer, following a 2006 Commission Communication on the modernisation of universities1, which suggested that universities should become more specialised and concentrate on working to their specific strengths.

Universities rankings are increasingly popular. Today, 33 countries have some form of ranking system operated by government and accreditation agencies, higher education, research and commercial organisations, or the media. The most popular are the Shangai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Times QS World University Ranking.

Rankings are used for specific and different purposes. Politicians regularly refer to them as a measurement of their nation’s economic strength and aspirations. Universities use them to define performance targets and implement marketing activities, while academics use rankings to support their own professional reputation and status. Students use rankings to choose their potential place of study and research. Public and private stakeholders use rankings to guide their decisions about funding allocations. What started out as a consumer product aimed at undergraduate domestic students has now become both a manifestation and a driver of global competition and a battle for excellence in itself.

However while there are over 17,000 higher education institutions worldwide, rankings concentrate interest only in the world’s top 100.

In addition, if higher education is one of the engines of the economy and a key point on the ‘knowledge triangle’, then the productivity, quality and status of research produced by universities is a vital indicator. Hence the importance of designing a way to evaluate it which is truly fit for purpose. But, as always, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution! A new methodology will have to be developed. Ideally the best would be applicable across a full range of disciplines, including interdisciplinary research. It should assume an inclusive notion of research, ranging from blue sky/curiosity-driven to user-led/practicebased research. At present, some rankings include metrics on teaching and learning, most are focused on life-science research.

Users too have their own specific needs. And, depending on what they want to find out, they should be provided with a broad range of answers.

For example, a prospective student might look for information on a specific discipline, on future employability, or on the fees associated with the university of their choice. A ranking system of this kind does exist for students, but at the moment only in Germany. The level at which the quality of research is assessed also matters. Ranking universities as entire institutions may not be the most appropriate way to identify where the best research is done and how it is done. A university may be renowned for one or two departments, but may not be excellent in all disciplines it offers. Identifying more precisely where research is produced and disseminated should allow for a better assessment of university-based research.

I believe that the coexistence of different models to assess universitybased research is not only inevitable, but healthy. We need to design flexible and multidimensional methodologies that will adapt to the diverse and complex nature of research, disciplines and of our universities. In its quest for excellence, the European Commission must and will encourage, promote and support every effort to understand and monitor the quality of research at universities.

I wish to end with a simple quote from someone who understood better than anyone else the value of freedom, creativity and knowledge: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This sign was hanging in Einstein’s office at Princeton. Let us take the time now to see what really counts when we rank our universities, these most important of our knowledge powerhouses.

Commissioner Janez Potočnik 1 Overview

Executive Summary

1.1 The Way Forward – Recommendations

1.2 2 Introduction

University‐based Research in the Knowledge Economy

2.1 The European Policy Context

2.2 Measuring what Counts

2.3 Remit of Expert Group on Assessment of University‐based Research


2.5 Format of the Report

3 Characteristics of Research Assessment

Defining ‘Research’

3.1 An Inclusive Approach to Disciplines

3.2 Research Outlets and Outputs

3.3 Users and Uses


3.5 Summary

4 Measuring University-Based Research


4.1 Indicators and Disciplinary Practice

4.2 Unit of Assessment: Knowledge Clusters


4.4 Bibliometric Methods

Peer Review


4.6 Self-evaluation

4.7 Research Ethics

4.8 Social and Economic Impact and Benefits

4.9 Indicators and Their Dimensions

4.10 Summary

5 A Proposed Framework for Research Assessment

5.1 Lessons from Existing Practice

Framework for Research Assessment


5.3 Multidimensional Research Assessment Matrix

6 Conclusion

Limitations and Unintended Consequences


6.2 Good Practice

6.3 Contribution to Future Research Assessment Exercises

7 Appendix I. Activities and Membership of Expert Group on Assessment of UniversityBased Research

8 Appendix II. Glossary

9 Appendix III. Description of Indicators: Qualitative and Quantitative















9.11 10 Appendix IV. Case Studies of the Research Assessment Experience











10.10 ITALY


10.12 NORWAY

10.13 SPAIN

10.14 SWEDEN








10.21 11 Appendix V. Bibliography

EU Publications

Other Publications


–  –  –

1.1 Executive Summary 



The political context  Assessment of university‐based research1 (AUBR) has become a major issue for a wide range  of stakeholders at all levels. One of the main reasons is that research performance is widely  regarded  as  being  a  major  factor  in  economic  performance.  Because  of  their  interlinked  roles in education, research, and innovation, universities are considered key to the success  of  the  Lisbon  Strategy  with  its  move  towards  a  global  and  knowledge‐based  economy.  Improving  the  capacity  and  quality  of  university‐based  research  is  thought  to  be  vitally  important  for  innovation,  including  social  innovation.  In  the  words  of  the  revised  Lisbon  Strategy (European Commission (2005), p. 20), “knowledge, meaning R&D, innovation and  education, is a key driver of productivity growth. Knowledge is a critical factor with which  Europe can ensure competitiveness in a global world”. According to the Commission (p. 20),  the  economic  relevance  of  research  requires,  among  other  things,  ‘increased  and  more  effective  public  expenditure’,  a  view  that  is  shared  by  an  increasingly  large  number  of  Member States.   The economic dimension of (university‐based) research in terms of expected economic and  societal  benefit  and  increased  expenditure  goes  a  long  way  to  explain  the  heightened  concern  for  quality  and  excellence  in  research,  for  transparency,  accountability,  comparability  and  competition,  and  for  performance  indicators  and  assessment.  The  following  quote  from  the  Commission’s  Communication  Delivering  on  the  modernisation  agenda for universities: Education, research and innovation of 2006 (p. 7f.) illustrates this:  Universities  should  be  funded  more  for  what  they  do  than  for  what  they  are,  by  focusing  funding  on  relevant  outputs  rather  than  inputs,  …  Competitive  funding  should be based on institutional evaluation systems and on diversified performance  indicators  with  clearly  defined  targets  and  indicators  supported  by  international  benchmarking.  Global rankings  The  growing  concern  for  the  quality  and  assessment  of  university‐based  research  partly  explains  the  increasing  importance  attached  to  university  rankings,  especially  global  rankings.  As  is  well  known,  rankings  compare  universities  on  the  basis  of  a  range  of  indicators;  different  systems  favour  different  indicators,  and  the  same  indicators  can  be  weighted  differently  by  the  various  systems.  The  total  score  for  each  university  is  aggregated into a single digit, and universities are ranked accordingly. Rankings enjoy a high  level of acceptance among stakeholders and the wider public because of their simplicity and  consumer‐type  information.  However,  assessment  experts  have  expressed  serious  reservations  about  the  methodologies  used  by  global  ranking  organisations.  In  particular,  doubt  has  been  cast  on  the  possibility  of  comparing  whole  universities  –  in  other  words, 


 In this report, the term ‘university’ refers to all higher education institutions (HEIs), irrespective of the  name and status in national law.     9   


diverse  and  complex  organisations  –  on  the  basis  of  aggregated  scores.  Moreover,  global  rankings tend to rely on qualitative indicator‐based data, which tend to have an inbuilt bias  in  favour  of  hard  sciences  and  biosciences,  and  of  English‐language  publications.  There  is  also a substantial lack of cross‐national comparative data.   


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