World university rankings – UCT’s web presence

UCT, as a good research university, likes to compete in world
rankings, endorsing its  high international profile. Well, we have
creamed another competition, in relative terms, but I
nevertheless have some unsolicited advice on how we can improve our
ranking even further to power our way into the 'Premier
' top 200 of this particular competition.

We are talking about the Webometrics
world ranking of university websites, which has just released its
2008 rankings (thanks to Peter
Suber's Open Access News
for bringing this to my attention). UCT
comes in at number 385 out of over 14,000 universities. Not bad at
all – it puts us at the top
of Africa
and gets us in ahead of all but two Latin American
universities and all Indian universities (where Bangalore comes in at
605). Not unexpectedly, the top 8 African universities are from South
Africa, with Stellenbosch second at 654 and Rhodes third at 722.
UNISA, surprisingly comes in quite low – 8th, at 1,499. DUT is the
lowest rated South African university at 8,735.

So, congratulations to UCT and its web developers. But can I be
grudging and suggest that we should do better? We need to get into
the world top 200 – the Premier League, among the big Asian, US and
European players (and yes, that is the order). After all, UCT prides
itself on its far-sightedness in ICT development and has created the
Centre for Educational Technology
for the development of ICT use for teaching and learning – something
that turned out in a recent online discussion forum in the eMerge
2008 online conference
to be the envy of many of our colleagues
in other universities. 

To get a hint on how to do better, one needs to look at the
criteria for evaluation. This is what the Webometrics site says about
its criteria:

The original aim of the Ranking was to promote Web
publication, not to rank institutions. Supporting Open Access
initiatives, electronic access to scientific publications and to
other academic material are our primary targets. However web
indicators are very useful for ranking purposes too as they are not
based on number of visits or page design but global performance and
visibility of the universities.

As other rankings focused
only on a few relevant aspects, specially research results, web
indicators based ranking reflects better the whole picture, as many
other activities of professors and researchers are showed by their
web presence.

The Web covers not only
only formal (e-journals, repositories) but also informal scholarly
communication. Web publication is cheaper, maintaining the high
standards of quality of peer review processes. It could also reach
much larger potential audiences, offering access to scientific
knowledge to researchers and institutions located in developing
countries and also to third parties (economic, industrial, political
or cultural stakeholders) in their own community.

The Webometrics ranking
has a larger coverage than other similar rankings. The ranking is not
only focused on research results but also in other indicators which
may reflect better the global quality of the scholar and research
institutions worldwide.

The site includes a very useful ten-point
list of good web practice
for university sites. But it is clear
what UCT needs to do to improve its rankings, and that is to put its
scholars' research output online
, to make it accessible and searchable and increase
the 'global performance and visibility of its research'. Note that
the ranking includes not only formal journals and repositories, but
also 'informal scholarly communication'. The Social
programme in the UCT Planning Office is
demonstrating that we produce a lot of that, too, although we do not
record it properly. Putting the not inconsiderable output of UCT's
student and staff community programmes would serve a dual purpose of
increasing the reach and impact of these vital resources
and increasing the university's research profile.

So how about a drive to put UCT's considerable research output online
(including its very substantial contribution to community
development) and see if we can shine even better in another
international ranking? And yes, this does apply also to all those S&T departments North of Jammie steps.