THES rankings, manipulation or optimization?

From the university newspaper of Groningen we get some interesting insights in the way Groningen University has optimized their data for submission to the THES rankings. Deemed not to be important, the rector nevertheless wanted Groningen University to score better in the THES-QS rankings. For the rector, the first notation in the top 200 of the THES rankings, 173 to be exactly, was a good reason to celebrate with his subordinates.

What did they do? They concentrated on the questions of the most favourable number of students. The number of PhD students was a number they could play with. In the Netherlands PhD students are most often employed as faculty, albeit they are students as well to international standards. They contemplated on the position of the researchers in the University hospital. This would increase the number of staff considerably and thus lower the student/faculty ratio, but on the other hand this could have an important effect on the number of citations per research staff as well. Increases in staff number will lower the citations per staff. Which is detrimental to the overall performance. However, if they only could guarantee that citations to hospital staff were included in the citation counts as well?

So in Groningen they have exercised through some scenarios of number of students, number of staff, student/staff ratio and citations/staff ratio to arrive at the best combination to enhance their performance. I really do wonder if the contact between Groningen and QS -the consultants establishing the rankings- did also lead to the improvement of the search for citations by including the University Hospital for the university results. It is known from research by CWTS that searches for papers from all parts of the university are notoriously difficult. Especially to include the papers produced by staff from the teaching hospitals. In Groningen they have the feeling that it helped what they did in their contacts with QS. Well, at least it resulted in a nice picture on their university profile page.

Optimization or manipulation? It is only a thin line. If you only could make sure that all staff of your university would use the proper name of the institution in the authors affiliation. The university would gain a lot.