You probably already know from our overview article on international university rankings about the top three international rankings (Shanghai World University Ranking, QS World University Ranking, and The Times Higher Education World University Ranking). Even though all of these rankings are quite different and they rank universities according to their own parameters, there is still one common feature between them: all of them concentrate on evaluating academic research. This article, in turn, introduces to you another international academic ranking of universities (indeed, the largest of them all) called “Webometrics”, which has a very different approach when it comes to assessing universities. If most of the international rankings list only several thousand (usually one to two thousand) leading universities, Webometrics includes over thirty thousand using a combined indicator called WebRank (WR).
What does Webometrics mean?
Today’s world is hardly imaginable without the worldwide web and the internet. The web is one of the main sources of information for most of the world’s population (for individuals, organizations, businesses, etc.). Thus, if someone wants to build a worldwide presence, their web image is crucially important. The same is true for academia, where web publications are now the main source of scholarly communication. There have been several efforts to develop web indicators that can ultimately lead to building university rankings (source: Research Gate). The work on developing web-based university ranking started in the mid-1990s, especially after the European Commission approved funding for two projects, EICSTES and WISER (www.wiserweb.org - under the now-defunct address and www.Webindicators.org - under the now-defunct address).
The word “webometrics” (first used by Almind and Ingwersen in 1997) itself has two definitions:
"The study of the quantitative aspects of the construction and use of information resources, structures and technologies on the Web drawing on bibliometric and informetric approaches." Source: Emerald.
"The study of web-based content with primarily quantitative methods for social science research goals using techniques that are not specific to one field of study”. This second definition should be considered as a supplement to the first one, rather than its replacement.
|Issued by||Cybermetrics Lab @ Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas / Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) located in Madrid.|
|Frequency of publication||Semiannually (since 2004).|
|Level of comparison||Institutional.|
|# of institutions||Approx. 30,000.|
|# German Unis||
458 (2021 edition).
|Focus on||Impact (measured by web links and citations on Google Scholar and Scimago).|
Web Impact (“Visibility”):
Citations on Google Scholar (“Transparency/Openness”):
Citations on Scimago (“Excellence/Scholar”):
|Strengths||Ranks the largest number of universities.|
Who issues the ranking?
The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, or Ranking Web of Universities, is a ranking system which assesses universities according to two major parameters:
- Visibility and impact (external links, site citations, etc);
- Research/bibliometric indicators.
According to its creators, this web presence is quite a reliable indicator of a university's performance. By performance they mean: research, teaching, available technical resources, internet literacy, international visibility, open access, etc.
Since 2004, the ranking has been published twice a year (in January and July) by the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) located in Madrid.
According to the editors, the aim of the ranking is to improve and expand the presence of academic and research institutions on the internet and to promote the open-access publication of scientific results.
NOTE: It should be highlighted that the Ranking Web of Universities DOES NOT rank the websites of the universities (for instance according to their design). The ranking in fact assesses overall performance using both webometric (internet presence) and bibliometric (research mission) indicators.
Is Webometrics trustworthy?
Of course, the main question an international student and his/her parents might ask would be: Can I trust Webometrics? And if so, how can I use its results?
Here are some facts we have collected for you:
- The 2009-2011 rankings have received significant press coverage and individual rankings have been published on the websites of universities in countries in the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, Canada and Africa.
- The Webometrics data is considered as a reference point to achieve better online visibility and performance by higher education institutions and the governments of many countries.
- Even if Webometrics’ methodology significantly differs from other international rankings’ methodologies (which usually focus on research), the results correlate strongly.
- Some countries (for example, Namibia) use the Webometrics list rankings to boost state-funded institutions’ web presence.
Which German universities are ranked?
Webometrics ranks all German universities — all 458 of them, including Universities of Applied Sciences, which are usually not ranked by other renowned international rankings. By taking a look at the Top 10 German universities according to the recent editions of the Webometrics, QS, THE and Shanghai rankings, one can see clear similarities. To be more precise, there is a 70% overlap between Webometrics and QS and between Webometrics and THE, while the overlap between Webometrics and Shanghai is 50%.
Another interesting fact is that Webometrics follows the general trend of ranking Germany among the top nations in terms of number of universities in the Top 250. For example, Webometrics ranks Germany as the third country after the USA and the UK in this regard.
About the methodology
One frequently addressed and discussed topic is the methodology of Webometrics: does it take into account web page design? How exactly does it assess universities’ performance? A brief answer to these questions would be that mostly Web Impact of the higher education institution is analyzed. For instance, half of the total points are awarded based on how many people link the different pages of the university. It also matters how many pages and external links to university websites and documents are found by Google and Google Scholar, as well as how many publications of the institution’s researchers and professors are published on the websites of the most prominent scientific journals.
|Web Impact “Visibility” - 50%||
Web content impact — number of external networks linking to the institution’s web pages.Sources: Ahrefs; Majestic.
|Citations on Google Scholar (“Transparency/Openness”) - 10%||
Top-cited researchers — number of citations from top-210 authors from each university.Source: Google Scholar Profiles.
|Citations on Scimago (“Excellence/Scholar”) - 40%||
Top-cited papers — academic papers published in high-impact international journals play a very important role in the ranking of universities. Number of papers among the top 10% most-cited in each one of 27 disciplines (over the previous five-year period).Source: Scimago.
What does this ranking tell you as a student?
Webometrics evaluates universities from all over the world and lists them on its page, assessing each of the three above discussed criteria individually. This ranking procedure cannot be affected by any university, ministry, or state. In most developing countries, there is no adequate system to control and follow up on the success of reforms or define weaknesses and evaluate destructiveness of the involvement of policy into activities of higher education institutions. This is one of the greatest advantages of Webometrics: it actually provides a very simple tool for quality control of the world’s higher education institutions and enables competition among higher education institutions across the globe.
In such a process, it is clearly visible through the ranking system in which (if any) of the three ranking parameters — visibility, transparency, and excellence — an institution progresses or stagnates.
One major strength of Webometrics is that it performs ranking of institutions on the state, regional, and global levels.
Criticism of Webometrics, or, what does this ranking does NOT include
Unlike other systems of university rankings, one can say that Webometrics is a “global” ranking system. Why global? Most of the other major ranking systems (such as Shanghai Ranking, THE, QS) include only several hundred to several thousand of the best universities, while Webometrics includes most of the universities from all over the world. However, Webometrics’ methodology does give rise to several questions:
- Is web impact (the number and weight of backlinks) a good metric for measuring educational quality?
- Linguistic bias - non-English-language content gets lower index ratings/number of links.
- Unreliable sourcing (in the case of backlinks), misrepresentation of the quality of education, bad web policies (source: Samuel Neaman Institute).
- Webometrics is also biased towards high-income countries. Based on the ranking table, the majority of the Top 100 universities are located in the United States of America, where university websites enjoy strong internet presence due to marketing expenditures and prestige.
- In case of universities with more than one domain: “A few universities have two main web domains, but only the best global ranked is included in the main ranking” (source: Webometrics).
There is no ranking that can be proven to be better or worse than the others. Rankings are just indicators and weightings reflecting the priorities of the authors/producers. Therefore, the objectivity of any ranking in measuring the quality of higher education is questionable. “Which university is the best” can be answered differently depending upon which ranking is asking the question — we will let you ask and answer the same question according to your own criteria, if you wish using one or more university ranking as a guide.