Decades of a deliberate set of policies designed to increase the level of collaboration between European universities and research institutes appear to be paying off, according to a new index from the European Commission-backed U-Multirank, published on 21 September.
European Union institutions in the top 100 of U-Multirank’s Higher Education Cooperation Index had almost four times more joint degree programmes than non-EU universities and were more successful in student mobility, both incoming and outgoing.
The Higher Education Cooperation Index is a new feature in the latest edition of U-Multirank, the alternative to the traditional world university rankings which tend to be dominated by the most research-intensive global higher education institutions.
U-Multirank says it gives equal status to a much broader set of indicators and allows students and other users to judge different institutions on what matters to them rather than what matters to those compiling the world university league tables.
It also claims to look at the performance of a larger number of higher education institutions, 1,948 this year, and surveys more than 100,000 students for satisfaction scores.
Putting cooperation ahead of competition
And while those behind U-Multirank say it was not their intention to show universities based within the European Union in the best possible light, that appears to be the result of shining the spotlight on institutions which put cooperation ahead of competition.
Professor Frans van Vught, from the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and one of the joint leaders of the U-Multirank project, told University World News: “We didn’t set out to say European universities are the best for cooperation, but it appears that they are more cooperative than their colleague institutions in other regions of the world.
“That is perhaps not so surprising as European higher education and research policies have for years, and indeed decades, been driven by the idea of stimulating cooperation, mobility and joint programmes and encouraging joint research activities through initiatives such as the European Education Area and the European Research Area.
“We can’t prove that is the reason for our findings, but it is something we can assume.”
Fellow joint leader of the U-Multirank project, Professor Frank Ziegele from the Centre for Higher Education think tank in Germany, said the latest results from U-Multirank show that cooperation really works in higher education.
“Whether institutions collaborate with colleague institutions and-or with other societal actors, such as business and industry, social and cultural institutions, as well as governmental bodies, in all cases there appears to be a positive effect on performance,” he told University World News.
Delving into six years of data
The new Higher Education Cooperation Index is the result of “delving into the data” drawn together over the past six years for annual updates of U-Multirank to find trends, explained Van Vught.
“We looked at seven aspects of collaboration and cooperation – strategic partnerships, international joint degrees, internships, international co-publications, co-publications with industrial partners, regional co-publications and co-patents with industry – and put them together to find the institutions with more collaborative behaviour than others.
“We don’t think something like this has been tried before as we were looking for something that has not really been addressed in higher education and research,” Van Vught told University World News.
The results that emerged from examining what U-Multirank calls “cooperation aspects” surprised the researchers in that they showed that universities located within the European Union performing strongly in nearly every category of the Higher Education Cooperation Index.
Specific strategic profiles
Not one university was in the top 100 in all seven indicators reflected in the Higher Education Cooperation Index. Rather the cooperation profiles relate to the specific strategic profiles of the institutions.
U-Multirank judges success across a number of different dimensions. For teaching and learning, institutions successful in its Higher Education Cooperation Index had a better rate of students graduating on time compared to others, explained Van Vught.
For knowledge transfer, they had more of their graduates creating start-up companies, and for research, they had almost double the publication output when the data was normalised for size of institutions.
Van Vught told University World News: “What we have found is that while competition in higher education and research is often seen as a major and attractive way to improve performance, our data over the past six years shows that cooperation is a much better alternative strategy in many fields.”
Better to work together
“Rather than compete for money or students, the best staff, professors or whatever, we found that it can be a much better strategy to work together with other institutions, businesses and industry, governments and regional actors to improve your performance in whatever fields you think are important for your profile.”
In its new Higher Education Cooperation Index, U-Multirank lists the top performers in a range of areas based on institutions scoring the highest number of A-grades using various indicators.
These show European universities taking 23 of the top spots for the level of cooperation with industry, with the other three spaces taken by universities in Asia.
European universities took 16 of the top slots for publications reflecting research connected to international networks, with Asia taking six places, Africa three and America having two universities in this category.
Europe also dominated the indicator for regional joint publications, with 22 of the top spots compared with one in Asia, one in Australia and one in America.
European universities took 23 top spots for mobility and international exchange, with universities in America, Africa and Asia taking one top position each.
Europe had 21 universities in a category that included a range of indicators such as research partnerships, international co-publications, co-patents with industry and students on joint degree programmes, with Asia taking two top slots and America and Africa each having one institution listed as a top performer in this category.
However, America dominated the indicator for overall research publications, taking 11 places compared with eight in Asia and five in Europe and one in Australia. And North America also took 18 top places for technology transfer in terms of discoveries and inventions made in academic institutions, with Asia taking six places and Europe only having one institution listed.
The interactive tool assisting students and users to select their best matching university or programme can be found here.
New this year from U-Multirank is an interactive map for the most cooperative universities worldwide.
A full list of the global top 25 performing universities (including the new Higher Education Cooperation Index list) can be found here.
Country reports on global and national performances of universities (available for selected countries) can be found here.