A fixation on the U.S. News college rankings and challengers like WaMo’s can create the false impression that comparative evaluation of higher education institutions is primarily an American game, and that competition among colleges stops at the border. Neither supposition is true at all. As part of our September-October College Guide and Rankings issue, we’re happy to offer an article by Ellen Hazelkorn of the Dublin Institute of Technology, an authority on efforts to rank colleges internationally.

Her piece assesses the current status of comparative college assessments across national boundaries, and focuses especially on Europe’s U-Multirank, a sophisticated tool for assessing higher education institutions in a multidimensional manner across many educational competencies, including teaching, regional engagement, international orientation and knowledge transfer as well as research.

U-Multirank is based in Europe but is designed to enlist data from universities around the world. It is also designed to avoid over-simplistic rankings:

U-Multirank is based on four design principles: it is user driven, whereby each individual or stakeholder group can rank the data according to his/her own preferences; it is multidimensional, with information collected according to five different characteristics; there is peer-group comparability, through which HEIs of similar missions can be compared; and it permits multilevel analysis, in which HEIs can be examined at the institutional level but also at the disciplinary or field-based level and at the department level.

U-Multirank also uses interactive online technology to facilitate multi-functionality. The system does not pre-assign a weighting to each indicator, and there are no composite indicators. This will preclude, the promoters say, the results being aggregated into a single-digit ordinal ranking. At the institutional level, the results will be shown in the sunburst format, while the field-based rankings will draw on the experience of the CHE [Germany’s Center for Higher Education] ranking, which bands universities into three different groups (top, middle, and bottom), using traffic-light colors (green, yellow, and red)…. The intention is to avoid simplistic league tables.

If enough American universities decide to participate in U-Multirank, it could soon compete with or displace the U.S. News rankings, offering more nuanced and detailed evaluations offering global benchmarks. It’s a good time to get to know this system and its evolution before it is fully implemented next year.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.