University World news, Feb. 8th, 2010, has an article by Geoff Maslen, Ranking universities by web popularity, which profiles how universities are being ranked by their website hits.
The University of Calgary, yes, the university that was snubbed by China, is #10 in Canada, #78 in North America and #168 in the World when ranked by hits to the website by www.4icu.org (4 International Colleges & Universities).
What is the economic and political influence of a university’s website and rankings? Does its website’s attention and ranking offset in any way the potential economic loss and controversy caused by the awarding of an honorary degree to the Dalai Lama?
Time will tell. Right now it certainly seems like the Dalai Lama controversy overshadows such a seemingly trivial thing as a website ranking. But I think the slow tortoise of academic online discourse and reputation will outrun the hare of controversies and stories that come and go in the news.
The 4icu website claims that the rankings can “especially help international students to understand how popular a specific university/college is in a foreign country.”
What will Chinese and other international students be persuaded by, the official recognition of their home government or the international ranking of the University of Calgary (by other means as well as its website)?
Universities that rank highly on 4icu’s ranking don’t think it is a trivial measure. On January 18, 2010, Cornell U boasted of its 8th place in the worldwide ranking. Within weeks, Purdue University boasted about their 2nd place in the US ranking.
The rankings are being credited to such things as university reputation and branding and quality web content. The branding is seen to be an asset because “gives our graduates a platform to stand on as they enter the job market,” according to the Chief Information Officer at Purdue University.
However, 4icu does not give very much information about its ranking system. They only say “Universities and Colleges are sorted by our exclusive 4icu.org Web Popularity Ranking. The ranking is based upon an algorithm including three unbiased and independent web metrics extracted from three different search engines: Google Page Rank, Yahoo Inbound Links, Alexa Traffic Rank” (about page).
See the methodology page in the Ranking Web of World Universities, an alternative university website ranking site, for a discussion of the various methodological factors involved in ranking university by website hits (there is more than one org that does this, apparently). However, the RWWU website is dated “July 09,” is in microscopic print and poor English, and gave me error pages when I searched using the navigation bar. And that affects its own site’s rhetorical ranking on the web in spite of its deeper analysis of methodology.