School Ranking Inconclusive

WEST BERLIN—An attempt to compare the academic standings of West German universities has produced a confusing lack of correlation between five different quantitative indicators. Conducted by Ernst Giese from the University of Giessen and funded by the German Research Society (DFG), the survey has been published at a sensitive time for science policy in West Germany. Its results have been welcomed by the country's collective of university presidents, which does not wish science indicators t

By | June 15, 1987

WEST BERLIN—An attempt to compare the academic standings of West German universities has produced a confusing lack of correlation between five different quantitative indicators.

Conducted by Ernst Giese from the University of Giessen and funded by the German Research Society (DFG), the survey has been published at a sensitive time for science policy in West Germany.

Its results have been welcomed by the country's collective of university presidents, which does not wish science indicators to be used in academic assessment or for funding decisions. But the government's advisory science council in-tends to continue using such measures in the hope of encouraging greater competition among and within universities.

Giese asked the nation's 52 universities to cooperate in his study. Five of them (Bamberg, Bielefeld, Duisburg, Munich and Ubn) explicitly refused to cooperate, while others (Augsburg, the Free University of Berlin, Darmstadt, Dortmund, Dusseldorf and Wurzburg) did not respond to repeated invitations. In some cases Giese secured information from other sources, and eventually covered 42 campuses. The data cover 1982-84.

Who's on Top?

On his first indicator—the number of doctoral degrees awarded annually per faculty member—Freiburg, Thbingen and Aàchen came out on top. But when Giese counted the number of individuals per faculty member who had been asked to review research proposals for the DFG in 1984, the Technical University of Munich and the universities of Gottingen and Hannover ranked highest. On this scale, Aachen was fifth, Freiburg 10th and Tubingen 16th.

The third measure was the number of job offers faculty members received from other institutions.

On this basis, the universities of Mannheim, Konstanz, Regensburg and Bayreuth ranked highest, and those of Bremen, Hamburg, Kassel and the Technical University of Munich lowest.

Different again were comparisons of the campuses chosen by Alexander von Humbolt grantees— overseas scientists who select an institution at which to take a sabbatical year. "it is not surprising that the universities of Munich, Heidelberg, Bonn, Freiburg, Konstanz, Tubingen, Gottingen, Cologne, Bochum, Wurzburg and Mainz axe requested over-proportionally," said Giese. "Except for Konstanz and Bochum, these are all old universities … in attractive and famed old university cities."

Giese's final measure was the amount of research money received per faculty member from external sources such as the DFG. Here Aachen, Clausthal, Karisruhe and Braunschweig were most successful, with Kassel, Osnabruck, Paderborn and Siegen ranking lowest.

"For the moment," Giese concluded, "the deficiencies and uncertainties of the five indicators used in my study are so great that a catalogue of indicators should probably be restricted for the moment to comparisons within particular disciplines, rather than being used to rate one institution with another."

Sietmann writes on science policy from West Berlin.

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