‘Too much focus on scores and competition’

Utrecht University not participating in THE ranking anymore

UU-klompjes, foto DUB
Photo: DUB

This is the first time that UU does not appear in this ranking. It's also one of the few rankings for which universities have to provide information themselves to get a score. Last year, UU went from the 69th to the 67th place.

These past few years, the Executive Board has been expressing mixed feelings regarding rankings. Although they are pleased with the good scores obtained by the university, the methods used to come up with the rankings generate a lot of debate. UU says to have three reasons for not participating in the Times Higher Education rakings this year, according to the university's spokesperson.

"It's practically impossible to apprehend the quality of all the programmes and courses offered by a university through a single score. In addition, research reveals that the methods and data used by the institutions responsible for making these rankings are often questionable. Last but not least, the university has been promoting academic collaborations and open science, which does not go together with an appetite for scores and competition. Collaborations and open science are two of our guiding principles." UU supports initiatives such as More Than Our Rank and Dora, for example.

The ranking
This year, there are only twelve Dutch universities in the Times Higher Education world rankings. According to the British World University Ranking 2024, eleven Dutch universities are among the best 200 in the world. Only Tilburg University is marginally outside that number.

The rise of the Delft University of Technology from 70th to 48th place is remarkable. That university managed to overtake the universities of Amsterdam (61) and Wageningen (64). The latter was the highest-ranked Dutch university last year. The Eindhoven University of Technology (168) and the University of Twente (184) have also risen substantially and are now ranked in the top 200.

Utrecht University would have certainly been among them had it decided to join the ranking. Last year, UU was the third-highest ranked university from the Netherlands, in the 66th place. However, UU is not the only institution having second thoughts about this type of rankings. An expert group from Universities of the Netherlands, the association of Dutch universities, stated this summer that these lists "wrongly pretend to be able to summarise the performance of a university, in the broadest sense, with a single number.”

Furthermore, the rankings are allegedly at odds with universities' pursuit of improving their "recognition and rewards" system. Many Dutch universities are no longer interested in evaluating their staff only on the basis of publications in scientific journals (to which great importance is attached in the rankings), but also on the basis of skills such as teaching, leadership, and science communication.

“It’s important to be able to establish our position among the world’s best,” said former UNL chair Pieter Duisenberg, “but this method doesn’t do justice to the scope of the work carried out at universities.”

He hoped for a cultural change and was pleased “that the University of Twente, Leiden University, Maastricht University and VU Amsterdam are all aiming to carry on with the initiative”. But for the time being, only Utrecht is turning words into action.

British and American universities still dominate the THE ranking. The University of Oxford is at number 1 for the eighth successive year, followed this time by Stanford University, in the USA. Harvard comes fourth. Switzerland’s ETH Zürich is ranked 11th and the highest-ranked Chinese institution, Tsinghua University, has advanced to the 12th spot.


THE World University Ranking



TU Delft



University of Amsterdam



Wageningen University



Leiden University



University of Groningen



Erasmus University Rotterdam



Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam



Maastricht University



Radboud University Nijmegen



TU Eindhoven



Twente University



Tilburg University




© HOP. Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023. The "=" sign means the university is sharing a given position with another institution.