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Top Swedish unis slide in new global ranking

4 Mar 2013, 22:15

Published: 04 Mar 2013 22:15 GMT+01:00

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Sweden's placement of three institutions on the Times Higher Education's 2013 World Reputation Rankings places it in a tie for sixth place overall with Hong Kong and Canada, and just behind France, which has four universities among the top 100.

The results are based on a survey of senior academics, providing what the publication refers to "the only global index based purely on the power of university brands".

Karolinska Inistitutet outside of Stockholm was the highest ranked Swedish university, landing in the 61-70 band.

Meanwhile, Lund University in southern Sweden and Uppsala University in eastern Sweden both placed in the ranking's 91-100 band.

However, the report's authors cautioned that Sweden's universities are "losing global status".

"There are alarming signs that [Sweden] is losing its lustre. None of the country’s three representatives make the world top 50; indeed, all have lost ground this year," Times Higher Education Rankings Editor Phil Baty said in a statement.

Baty singled out Uppsala University as "the greatest cause for concern", noting the school ranked in the 71-80 band in 2012 band "but now barely makes the top 100".

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When asked about the drop, Uppsala University Deputy Vice Chancellor Anders Malmberg had mixed reactions on the institution ranking.

"Uppsala strives to be among the world's top internationally-oriented research universities. We think we should be included in such rankings and are happy to belong to that top-100 group," he told The Local.

"But we are never satisfied when we see our position fall and want to continue working on strengthening our research and education programmes."

He added, however, that the university places more emphasis on "indicator-based" rankings rather than "reputation-based" ones, which he said are "harder to analyze".

"You never want to put too much emphasis on any one ranking but we have to keep an eye on them whether we like it or not," he added.

Malmberg said it was unclear whether or not Sweden's recent introduction of tuition fees for non-EU university students factored into the lower rankings.

"We certainly lost a lot of non-European students and need to work more with how we develop and market our programmes," he said.

Meanwhile, University Chancellor Lars Haikola, who heads the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet), downplayed the significance of the rankings.

"We don't put much faith in rankings here in Sweden," he told The Local.

"Swedish universities maintain high quality when it comes to their teaching and research programmes."

Haikola explained that Sweden is one of the only countries that has boosted research spending at a time when global economic troubles have prompted many country's top slash research budgets.

"We're spending billions [of kronor], but the initiatives are being carried out in a long-term perspective," he explained.

He added that any drop in the rankings by Swedish universities was "relative", but agreed that the rise of universities in Asia posed a challenge.

"It's a challenge for all countries to remain at the top," he said.

"It's hard to compete and Asian universities have taken great strides."

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Story continues below…

However, Haikola emphasized that he wasn't worried about any perceived drop in reputation for Sweden's universities.

"Worry is too strong a word," he said.

"Certainly, we must be aware of what's happening and what sorts of efforts are being undertaken elsewhere, but it's important not to exaggerate the significance of these figures."

The 2013 rankings are based on more than 16,000 responses to a survey conducted in 144 countries in March and April 2012. The respondents had been working in the academy for 17 years on average.

The United States dominated the World Reputation Rankings, snagging seven of the top ten spots and 43 of the top 100, with Harvard University maintaining its hold on the number one spot, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Cambridge and Oxford universities in the UK ranked three and four, respectively, with the University of Tokyo landing in eighth place as the top-ranked Asian university.

David Landes

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Your comments about this article

23:25 March 4, 2013 by StockholmSam
Yes, at the end of 2012, Uppsala University fired all of their professors and hired a bunch of freshly minted PhD students to teach their classes. They also decided to focus on courses in theater arts and swimming while decreasing their emphasis on frivolous subjects like business, law, international relations and economics. I can guess their decision to switch their food supplier to Ikea and invest in a nearby horse farm did not help, either.

(What a load of rubbish such rankings are, in other words.)
23:32 March 4, 2013 by oddsock
A 75% score on a test at a Swedish university gives you a VG grade, the highest possible (out of three! fail, G and VG).

In other countries that would be a C or B grade.

There is no motivation to succeed academically at Swedish universities.
04:51 March 5, 2013 by testUserName
I used to teach Master degree course where i failed few students but when i left the university, i came to know that they got pass grade without any retake. Surely these graduates should not be considered well qualified but how can industry judge that where they don't ask many technical questions. Secondly, universities give a damn about the ranking. Other than few good universities, rest are regional universities and there focus doesn't go beyond there "Lan".
06:48 March 5, 2013 by Borilla
"We don't put much faith in rankings here in Sweden,"

Perhaps that is why the Swedish universities, and Swedish education in general, are declining.This sounds very much like the Italian law professor who hired his wife and son (non.lawyers) to teach in his department at his university. His position was that being well qualified didn't count when you knew the applicants personally.
07:14 March 5, 2013 by Nilspet
The loss of talented non-EU students to Swedish universities do play a role, a big role.
07:29 March 5, 2013 by isenhand
I'm beginning to feel that this is representative of how Sweden is going at the moment; problems with education, problems with defence, problems with the heath system etc. It's like everything is running close to the edge that it has all started to fall apart.

You can argue for and against rankings but as one sitting with in academia and have worked in the field for many years I do feel very much that things are on a downward trend. Not just here in university but also within the school system as a whole.
08:13 March 5, 2013 by The Groke
Swedish University courses place too much emphasis on group work. And it is quite common that professors and lecturers will not take the time to offer ANY feedback on grades, unless hounded. At the same time, Swedish students complain endlessly about their high work load (two classes a week?), which is ridiculous, since the demands are significantly lower than those at a decent US university. Lazy students and lazy professors (yeah, yeah, of course there are exceptions) together with an administrative atmosphere from the dark ages - Sweden shouldn't even be in the top 200. it's a pity, because the resources and potential are all there....
08:20 March 5, 2013 by robban70226
My dear Sweden, Like with everything here, A day late and a dollar short
09:24 March 5, 2013 by engagebrain
Part of the problem in Sweden is that academic staff are mostly promoted from within the home institution - statistically a very very unlikely result but in practice candidates from other places, even othe places in Sweden, are rarely appointed. The result is that research stagnates since existing programs are basically inherited by succedding generations and new ideas penetrate slowly.

Science is a competitive world and friendship corruption does not make for competitive success - appoint the best applicants.
13:37 March 5, 2013 by Chrislod
The profs and lecturers are struggling with the education system themself. no wonder why oversea students are confusing as well. If you really how uni. recruites the new phd students and "young talent", you would seriously question the parties how do they spend the money on education. In the academy world, I see little freedom or creativity, but a lot of darwinism people their. It makes the real scholars work in a very depressing environment and the oversea students struggling on the surviving level. For short, there is a very big hole there to be filled.
05:10 March 6, 2013 by testUserName
I totally agree with you, Chrislod
11:57 March 6, 2013 by rfmann
"We don't put much faith in rankings here in Sweden,"

Yeah, right. I wonder how that would have sounded if the rankings had come out with a result he liked.

What's the big mystery here? A xenophobic white-bread culture, a buddy system that makes it difficult for anybody outside of it to succeed, parochial degrees, a tiny language community, ... Just look at the leadership of the various universities and departments, and count how many of them do not have Swedish names. Now do the same with Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Columbia. Or just go to www.lu.se, navigate to some random spot, and click on the ubiquitous "in English" button in the corner. Any questions?
19:07 March 6, 2013 by Migga
So because the leadership of the various Swedish universities and departments have Swedish names in Sweden it`s a xenophobic white-bread culture? Ridiculous. Got any facts to back up your claim?
19:57 March 6, 2013 by rfmann
No, those are independent, albeit possibly related, phenomena. Sweden is a xenophobic white-bread culture, and the academic leadership in Sweden is essentially local. If anything, causation goes most likely the other way: xenophobia and white-breadedness make folks more likely to choose locals to run the place.

As for facts, why don't you comment on the ones I gave you? (Incidentally, it is not the fact that departments have Swedish names, but that the largest Scandinavian university does not have a functioning English Web presence, apart from a few internationalized islands.)

The academic scene in many disciplines in Sweden is severely inbred, the leadership is only the most easily verifiable symptom. You have plenty of academics who have never left their institution since joining it as undergrads, something that would be somewhere between highly unusual and unthinkable in most other places. Reviewers for the major funding bodies are local, too, making research funding a matter of personal connections, rather than merit. I could go on, but you get the idea.
12:21 April 10, 2013 by cthulhus_chosen
These comments are making me even more depressed than normal about my chances of becoming a PhD candidate here. I have almost no connections, and my masters degree at the university ranked #16 seems to not mean a thing around here.
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