The QS World University Rankings are a load of old baloney

The University of Cambridge is not the best university in the world.

The University of Cambridge is the best university in the world, according to the eighth annual QS World University Rankings for 2011/2012, out today. Oxford came fifth in the tables and there is a total of five UK universities in the top 20. What a load of old baloney.

Here are the rankings:

1. University of Cambridge
2. Harvard University
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4. Yale University
5. University of Oxford
6. Imperial College London
7. UCL (University College London)
8. University of Chicago
9. University of Pennsylvania
10. Columbia University
11. Stanford University
12. California Institute of Technology
13. Princeton University
14. University of Michigan
15. Cornell University
16. Johns Hopkins University
17. McGill University
18. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
19 Duke University
20 University of Edinburgh

This ranking is complete rubbish and nobody should place any credence in it. The results are based on an entirely flawed methodology that underweights the quality of research and overweights fluff:

40 per cent -- academic reputation from a global survey
10 per cent -- from employer reputation
20 per cent -- from citations by faculty
20 per cent -- from student faculty ratio
5 per cent -- proportion of foreign students
5 per cent -- proportion of foreign faculty

The methodology is designed to underweight the performance of US universities that tend not to have a high proportion of foreign students or foreign faculty members -- but who cares about that? It is unclear whether having more foreign students and faculty should even have a positive rank; less is probably better. So, the UK faculty all say they are wonderful, but that isn't a plausible measure of quality. Another way to improve the rankings of UK universities would be to replace the 20 per cent for citations with a 20 per cent weight to any university whose name started with the letters CAM or OXF; the ranking is that absurd. Or they could weight by the proportion of buildings on the campuses built before 1500.

A more realistic ranking is provided by the University of Shanghai, that ranks the quality and quantity of research output of its faculty as well as the receipt of Nobel Prizes and field medals by both its faculty and alumni heavily. The number of faculty members from Botswana and the number of students from Chile quite rightly have zero impact, which is as it should be. Here are the weights used in their much more believable methodology:

Criteria
Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals -- 10 per cent
Faculty of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals -- 20 per cent
Highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories -- 20 per cent
Research Output Papers published in Nature and Science -- 20 per cent
Papers indexed in Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Science Citation Index -- 20 per cent
Per Capita Performance Per capita academic performance of an institution -- 10 per cent
Total 100 per cent

Note that since 2000, the faculty of the University of Cambridge has been awarded one Nobel Prize, in 2010, which was its first since 1984, while UCL and Oxford have both had none. Indeed, the University of Oxford's faculty hasn't received one since 1973. By contrast, MIT and Columbia have both had five; UC Berkeley has had four while Stanford, Rockefeller, Johns Hopkins, Chicago and Princeton have each had two and Harvard one.

Here is Shanghai University's much more believable 2010 ranking that ranks Cambridge fifth and Oxford tenth, and these are the only two UK universities in the top 20:

1. Harvard University
2. University of California, Berkeley
3. Stanford University
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
5. University of Cambridge
6. California Institute of Technology
7. Princeton University
8. Columbia University
9. University of Chicago
10. University of Oxford
11. Yale University
12. Cornell University
13. University of California, Los Angeles
14. University of California, San Diego
15. University of Pennsylvania
16. University of Washington
17. University of Wisconsin, Madison
18. The Johns Hopkins University
18. University of California, San Francisco
20. University of Tokyo

The QS is a flawed index and should be ignored. The University of Cambridge is not the best university in the world.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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The Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election shows Labour has more than Ukip to fear

The party has a Liberal Democrat problem as well. 

Brexit giveth, and Brexit taketh away. The Conservatives have won a thumping victory in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election. The numbers that matter:

  • Caroline Johnson (Conservative)  53.5%
  • Victoria Ayling (Ukip) 13.5%
  • Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat) 11%
  • Jim Clarke (Labour) 10.2%

It's one of the Tory party's best by-election performances while in government - their vote share still above 50 per cent and miles ahead of their nearest competitors. What will make the victory even sweeter is what's happened to the Labour vote - a seven point fall in their share of the vote, and a collapse from second place to fourth. 

But for all the hype around Paul Nuttall and how he was set to transform Ukip into a Labour-killer, that party's vote share is down too - it's only the collapse in Labour's vote that has allowed them to take second, rather than any great uptick in that party's fortunes. 

The only party with anything to cheer about - other than the Conservatives - are the Liberal Democrats, continuing their post-referendum pattern of astonishing revival. What many seem to have misunderstood: even in places like Hykeham, which backed Brexit by a heavy margin, the Remain vote is significantly larger than the Liberal one. If they can hold onto to their 2015 vote and add Remain votes from Tory and Labour, they can hope for real gains at the next election. (Of particular significance - in the South West, the Labour and Green vote they need to take back seats from the Conservatives, tends to have voted Remain on 23 June.)

What's increasingly clear: the further anti-immigration turn of Theresa May's government has fixed the Conservatives' Ukip problem, but they've acquired a Liberal Democrat one.  Labour, meanwhile, hasn't fixed its Ukip problem and now as a Liberal Democrat one to match. 

Blairites used to worry that Ed Miliband was pursuing a 35 per cent strategy (the Labour vote in 2010 topped up with disgruntled Liberal Democrats). It's fairly clear that Theresa May has decided to pitch her tent towards the 52 per cent who voted Leave, while Tim Farron is going for the 48 per cent who decided to Remain. What Labour wants is to talk about their plans to fix the British economy and negotiate a better Brexit than the Conservatives can. That has the advantage of not putting further pressure on the splits in the parliamentary Labour party and the divide in the party's electoral coalition. The real risk, however, is what they've ended up with is a zero per cent strategy.

Downing Street has disavowed remarks made by Boris Johnson, this time about the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary said Saudi Arabia was "twisting and abusing" Islam and acting as a "puppeteer" in the region. It's a further rift between Downing Street and the FCO. "Saudi row wides Boris rift with May" is the Telegraph's splash.

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Children from families that are "just about managing" (earning £18-21k a year) are significantly less likely to gain entrance to a grammar school than their wealthier peers, a new report by the Sutton Trust has found. Julia has the details.

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Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, a civil service union, has chastised Theresa May for criticising civil servants in a recent interview, saying that "few definitions of leadership include criticising your overworked and underpaid staff".

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This year's NS Christmas charity is Lumos. JK Rowling, its founder and the author of the Harry Potter books, talks about its work with Eddie Redmayne here. If you can, please donate here.

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This originally appeared in today's Morning Call: get it in your inboxes Monday through Friday - sign up here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.