The recent Times Higher Education Top Universities by Reputation, published on 10 March 2011, has created some anxiety among Dutch universities. Some press releases suggested that this was a new ranking and it showed a much lower position of the universities than they had in the World Universities Ranking published in September 2010. To what extent should these universities worry?
The recent reputation ranking is actually not a new ranking but the publication of a part of the older research underlying the September THE ranking. The reputation indicator that contributed to the ranking has now been published separately, which of course results in a different listing.
Comparing the two rankings, the reputation of the Dutch universities seems to be lower than their performance would justify. The Technical University Delft is highest at position 49. Among the top hundred only Utrecht University, Leiden University, and the University of Amsterdam are present. This contrasts clearly with the overall THE World Universities Ranking which is based not only on reputation but also on a mix of performance indicators. In that list, no less than ten Dutch universities are present among the best 200 universities of the world, with scores between 50 and 55 (Harvard scores 100). So this contrast might mean that the (relatively small) Dutch universities could improve their reputation management, especially at the international level.
On the other hand, it is not clear how important this reputation ranking actually is. The results are based on an invitation only survey. THE sent out "tens of thousands" of requests to participate and received 13 thousand usable responses. It is unclear to what extent this sample is representative for the international academic community. There does appear to be some relation between the ranking results and effort in reputation management. The list is dominated by a small group of American universities together with Oxford University, so we see the usual suspects. All have invested in focused reputation management including the innovative use of new media. It would be interesting to analyze the determining factors for this reputation ranking. Perhaps THE can publish the underlying data?