| 4 April 2005
Up Among the LeadersHeidelberg Cuts an Excellent Figure in University Rankings
University of Heidelberg a front runner in many comparative assessmentsExcellent international reputationHeidelberg rated as the "German Harvard"Referred to in The Times as the "jewel of German learning"Among the top 50 in the worldStill hungry for more: "We want to be one of the top 25!"
Last September, a report in the German press filled all the friends of the University of Heidelberg with undisguised glee. "The University of Heidelberg comes out on top in the Focus ranking for medicine and biology," was the good news. Heidelberg's rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff responded with the words: "The news magazine has attested the excellence of the University of Heidelberg on the basis of a far-reaching survey taking full account of the academic parameters." The reason for this display of satisfaction was one of those studies that compare universities in terms of various different criteria, both at the national and international level. The fact that Heidelberg regularly figures among the leaders in these studies is proof positive of the University's quality. At the same time it represents an incentiveto stay out in front in the years to come.
A good showing in rankings like these is more than just a prestige factor. Says Dr. Andreas Barz, director of the Centre for Study Counselling and Continuing Education of the University of Heidelberg: "There are clear indications that potential students and people switching from one university to another take these results into account when deciding where to go." So cutting a good figure in comparative assessments is an excellent advertisement for the university in questionquite apart from the image enhancement involved for the city and the region where it is located.
Sometimes a good result can even make waves on an international scale, as was the case with the ranking by the renowned British newspaper The Times, which called the University of Heidelberg the "jewel of German learning" and the "oldest and most prestigious university in the country of Luther and Einstein." In this large-scale international study Heidelberg was the only German university to make it into the top 50, against such absolute front runners as Harvard or Berkeley. In the comparison, published last November, Heidelberg even managed to outdo such famous rivals as Edinburgh, Queensland, Auckland, Tokyo, the Sorbonne and King's College London. The fly in the ointment was the fact that Heidelberg "only" came in 47th in the world, though it achieved 12th place within Europe.
But it is as well to keep a sense of proportion when discussing the validity and the benefits of such a global comparison. For all the fascination exerted by a large-scale ranking of this kind, it is difficult to draw useful conclusions about the quality of the University from a one-off ranking. Responding to the question about the significance of this quality assessment for Heidelberg, Dr. Barz extends the focus above all to include the ranking by the Centre for University Development (CHE). "Let me put it this way," he says. "For Germany, the annual CHE ranking, published this year in the big German weekly Die Zeit for the first time, is the most important one. It appears at regular intervalsonce a yearand focuses on the subjects most students go for." Apart from engineering and business administration the subjects offered in Heidelberg are included in the ranking every year, thus providing a reliable reflection of qualityand development.
This reflection is quite likely to arouse envy among other German universities, particularly as Heidelberg's excellence is not limited to isolated "star subjects", as is the case with universities concentrating systematically on a specific area with a view to scoring excellent results in that quarter alone. In a Chinese study undertaken two years ago, Heidelberg came in second only to Munich in the German rating, while at the European level it was placed 12th, just missing inclusion in the Top 10. The Shanghai Jiao Tong University called the project "Academic Ranking of World Universities2003" and it was the first to employ different success criteria to compare over 2,000 universities worldwide, among which Heidelberg achieved a very creditable 58th place overall.
Listing Heidelberg's biggest assets, Andreas Barz has this to tell us: "The University of Heidelberg can point to remarkable results in the CHE ranking. It is up with the leaders in law, medicine, biology, physics, mathematics, psychology and political science." Angela Schröder's job is to evaluate the various rankings in terms of the G21 benchmark initiative, a quality assessment network maintained by major German universities. "Heidelberg is out in front in a very broad range of subjects," she says. "That in itself is an outstanding performance. We lead the way in many areas and this makes Heidelberg one of the most-noted universities, as not only the Times ranking indicates. At the same time we see this success as an incentive to be even better."
This is not just timid optimism but a clarion-call, summed up in the goal proclaimed by Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "We want to be among the top 25 in the world!" Angela Schröder pinpoints these efforts with a tongue-in-cheek comparison: "Parallels with the world of sport may be a little off-beam," she admits with a smile, "but it's surely fair to say that Heidelberg is a regular top-notch candidate in the premier division and is up with the best in the Champions' League. And its declared intention is to be a medal-winner in the University Olympics."
Every time the latest "progress report" comes in, it is of course subjected to very close scrutiny. "Naturally it's hard to judge how the University will respond," says Andreas Barz. "But one thing is for sure. The results are examined very closely, both by the departments and by the Rectorate. And of course we check the plausibility of the data." Angela Schröder agrees. "Of course there's always the problem of data validity," she says, "for even the best ranking is never perfect. Methodology and reliability frequently leave much to be desiredand superficial rankings are quite simply worthless!" But good-quality rankings are not only a useful guide for students, they also create "transparency in the plethora of different university offerings", as Andreas Barz puts it. A good thing that Heidelberg's qualities are a constant factor in this plethora
Heiko P. Wacker
Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Andreas Barz
Director of the Centre for Study Counselling and Continuing Education (ZSW) University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542451, fax: 543850
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/543426, fax: 542618
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
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