Assessment and rankings are different tools – IREG position paper on Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment

IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence welcomes the broad debate on research assessment expressed in the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment (CoARA) published under the auspices of the European Union. On several occasions the document refers to academic rankings, however, it misreads the role and place of rankings in the world of higher education.

Regarding the argument in favor of peer review represented in the agreement,  IREG expresses major concerns from a ranking perspective. Peer review is a highly resource intensive measure, and while it is an established system of assessment or individual researchers, research proposals and academic units; it would be completely out of range to expect rankings that assess entire higher education institutions to do it, especially on international or global scale.

Assessment systems in general are an internal quality assurance tool largely run by academic experts and addressed to academics. In contrast, ranking communicate information on higher education institutions to specific user groups (prospective students especially) and to the broader public. Rankings and research assessment are two instruments (tools) with different purposes and target groups.

The agreement indicates a need for changes in research assessment; it must be said that university rankings are changing and evaluating, too. A trend to include indicators related to the UN sustainable development goals (SDG) is a good example. The growing number of by subject or specialized rankings are a clear sign that rankings also take measures to improve.

By presenting its argument in the position paper IREG Observatory welcomes the search for ever better tools to help achieve excellence in research and higher education, but it sees no need to breed a ranking phobia in the process.


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