University of Split at The World University Rankings

Universitas | September 2017 | No. 95, p. 9

Text by Alen Soldo, full professor
Vice-dean at the University of Split


One of the most respectable rankings of the world university performance, The World University Rankings published by Times Higher Education (THE), has listed the University of Split among top 600 universities for the year 2018. This is the first time that the THE table features the University of Split, whereas the University of Zagreb is ranked in the category 801-1000 for the second year in a row.unist world university rankings 2017 c5e72

Together with the Shanghai Ranking and QS, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings is considered one of the three most relevant lists evaluating the performance of universities across the globe. The THE ranking lists the top 200 universities individually, place by place. They are followed by three hundred institutions grouped by 50. Then come the lower-ranked universities in the groups of 100 and the list ends with the group 801-1000. In total, 77 countries feature in the table. Apart from the universities in Split and Zagreb, there are only two institutions from the region featured in the list, the Slovenian universities of Ljubljana and Maribor, both ranked in the category 601-800.


Five areas of excellence

This year’s list of the best universities in the world is led by two UK universities for the first time. The University of Oxford has held on to the number one spot for the second year in a row, while the University of Cambridge has jumped from fourth to second place. They are followed by the US institutions California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The only top-10 institution outside the USA and the UK is the ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

In order to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings uses 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators across 5 core areas: teaching and learning environment (staff-student ratio, post-graduates vs. bachelors, institutional income), research (productivity, state subsidies), citations (research influence), international outlook (ratio of domestic to foreign staff/students, international cooperation), and industry income (knowledge transfer).

The University of Split has scored best results in the areas of citation, international outlook and cooperation with industry. Criteria that have been met less efficiently include the internationalisation of the studies and the quality of post-graduate doctoral studies. The certificates of quality recently awarded by the Agency for Science and Higher Education Croatia to three doctoral studies represent a significant step forward.

Among the growing number of international rankings, Shanghai, QS and THE are perhaps closest in their approach to assessing universities and presentation of results. However, these three rankings diverge significantly, due to differences in the indicators used, and the weightings applied when calculating overall scores. The Times Higher Education list takes into account the size of each institution and calculates the results per capita, i.e. per staff member of the institution, whereas the Shanghai list considers absolute figures, so that smaller universities have smaller chances to be listed.


Strategy of development

The Times list is typically created by inviting universities to send details on the overall number of students, distribution of student population across various areas, characteristics of the study programs, income, etc. Yet most of the relevant data are gathered and processed by the authors of the list.

The success of the University of Split results from the performance of all components and the university management. Despite the fact that the university was home to a number of prominent scholars, there was a lack of interaction among the university components, and the quality of the university as the umbrella organisation went unrecognised. The new management, headed by the deans and rector Šimun Anđelinović, has managed to create the first general strategy of development featuring annual action plans, scientific strategy and other fundamental documents.


International breakthrough

Efforts put into the internationalisation of the study programs will undoubtedly improve the ranking of the University of Split. So far, the School of Medicine has been the leading university component, with around 300 foreign students. An increase in study programs conducted in English language has been planned and it is estimated that the university will accommodate three thousand students over the next several years. Extensive promotion at the international level is planned and the City of Split is expected to take part in these activities as the arrival of foreign students strongly affects the image of the city and the interest of tourists. Regardless of the diverging views on the university rankings and the relevance of these lists, the goal of the University of Split is to appear in all of them and make headway year by year. Criteria and relevance of these rankings may vary, but making constant progress in any of these lists says a lot about the attitude of an institution towards the quality and performance.

Unfortunately, the success relies to a great extent on the attitude of the state towards science and higher education. Given the fact that the European Union invests three times more resources in science and research than Croatia, any breakthrough is actually a miracle. Without investment, there is no development in science, and without progress in science, there is no development whatsoever. The University of Split is in an uncomfortable situation as it lacks the well-deserved governmental support, with respect to the number of students and – as the international rankings prove – the quality of performance. The synergy of individual efforts made by the academic community and the state’s adequate attitude towards science and higher education will certainly result in even better ranking of the University of Split and other higher education institutions in Croatia.