Beautifully located in Trondheim, the NTNU has 23,000 students and 3,000 staff in scientific and academic positions. (Photo: Mentz Indergaard / NTNU Info)
On October 6, colleagues and students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim are cheering: The married couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser is awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their brain research. About the same time the Times publishes its Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015 where the university drops from 251-275th to 276-300th place.
Among the twenty highest ranked we find fifteen American, three British, one Canadian and one Swiss university. The University of Hong Kong is ranked as low as 43 – meaning that China’s best university is ranked behind twenty six American.
“The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015 list the best global universities and are the only international university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The top universities rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.”
The Mosers won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of cells that form a kind of “internal GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient in the room. In experiments with rats they discovered the particular brain cells that enable them to have a precise sense of place. The research results may be important for finding effective treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It may appear as some of the scientists taking part in the rankings are in need of a GPS: 16,000 scientists in the Times survey have to mention up to fifteen universities they believe are world leaders in their field. This “reputation indicator” is given a weighting of eighteen per cent, and it is obvious that more have knowledge about Harvard, Yale and Cambridge than NTNU in Central Norway.
In the report “Nordic Universities and International University Rankings” by Fredrik Piro, a researcher at the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) – it is concluded that Norwegian universities will never be able to reach the top part of the Times rankings.
The NTNU attracts students from all over the world and some of the brightest minds. (Photo: NTNU.no)
The list is primarily a popularity contest where it is all about being famous.
Another problem for Norwegian universities is that they are too small. In the rankings, research influence is weighted at thirty per cent of the overall score and the single most influential of the thirteen indicators.
A small university like the NTNU will have fewer published works cited by scholars globally than major American and British universities, and thus get lower scores. Quantity is more important for the rankings than quality.
Moreover, it is difficult for researchers at small and relatively unknown universities getting their articles published in recognized scientific journals.
NTNU in Trondheim has 23,000 students, 3,000 staff in academic or scientific positions, seven faculties and 48 departments with an annual budget of 5.6 billion kroner (approx. 930 million dollars). It is among the world leaders in fields such as medicine, marine technology and biotechnology – and is recognized for outstanding and innovative research.
It was a pleasant surprise, but not entirely unexpected, that the Mosers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. The NTNU has for two decades paved the way for the couple, and the team currently consists of about a hundred scientists.
However, it will come as no surprise if the university does not climb in the next Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
On the contrary.
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews