Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022: Measuring impact & holding universities accountable

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022 are here! We spoke to Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer at Times Higher Education, to learn more about the Impact Rankings, why they are important, and why students should care.

In short

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022: Top 10

According to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022, here are the top 10 sustainability- and impact-driven universities in the world:

  1. Western Sydney University (Australia)
  2. Arizona State University (Tempe) (United States)
  3. Western University (Canada)
  4. King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia)
  5. Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia)
  6. University of Auckland (New Zealand)
  7. Queen’s University (Canada)
  8. Newcastle University (United Kingdom)
  9. University of Manchester (United Kingdom)
  10. Hokkaido University (Japan)

What are the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings?

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are “the only rankings out there that measure a university’s social and economic impact,” Phil says. (00:36) Using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its guiding framework, the THE Impact Rankings rank each university on all 17 SDGs. The SDGs cover a broad range of themes, including poverty, gender equality, hunger, education, economic growth, and sustainable cities.

“It’s a really broad, multifaceted framework that allows us to capture all the ways that universities make a difference to the world [and] hopefully make a positive impact in making the world a better place,” Phil explains. (01:05)

Putting together the Impact Rankings is an arduous process, involving more than 20 full-time data specialists at Times Higher Education. It is also a burdensome process for universities, which are required to show clear (public) evidence of their sustainable activities. However, universities around the world are clearly seeing the value of participating. The THE Impact Rankings launched in 2019 with roughly 500 participating universities. This year, more than 1,500 universities took part; hundreds more universities are jumping on board to demonstrate their commitment every year.

What are the criteria of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings?

Times Higher Education examines universities’ impact on the world in four core areas:

  1. Research

“The key to solving some of our biggest challenges will come through university research,” Phil states. (03:05) Whether it’s tackling global inequalities, food security, or global hunger, universities are constantly creating new knowledge to drive progress. THE analyzes new research from participating universities using a bibliometric database that can extract research papers directly related to each of the 17 SDGs.

  1. Teaching

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of education is teaching. “Universities are empowering the next generation of leaders to be sustainable citizens. But also, they’re creating the skills we need to drive forward the SDGs,” Phil tells us. (03:13) This is why THE explores the subjects offered at each university, as well as the production of graduates into SDG-related fields, such as agriculture and health and well-being.

  1. Stewardship

Universities are large employers with a lot of influence. How they run their organization is of great importance to THE to ensure they are leading for positive impact. Thus, THE looks at aspects like the level of sustainability on campus and how each university drives gender equality. As Phil puts it, “Stewardship is very important. [Universities] are large employers with big footprints and how they manage their affairs is something we look at.” (04:30)

  1. Outreach

Finally, outreach describes the universities’ proactivity in connecting with society through collaborations with business, government, and NGOs. This ensures “they’re not just sitting in a cliched ivory tower,” Phil says. “They are actually making sure they are disseminating their knowledge. They could practice collaborating on policy development, for example, with NGOs, making sure their research and innovation is getting out there [and] making a real difference on the ground.” (04:55)

The importance of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

Traditional rankings are important as they serve as an important way for students to understand the prestige of any institution and decide where they want to study. However, the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are just as important.

“I think these rankings really change the dial,” says Phil. “They focus on what really matters to society as a whole. Of course, the SDGs are extraordinarily pressing. We are facing a climate crisis. We’re facing global heating in a way that’s extremely alarming – an existential threat to our world. So, we need to be really focused on the things that make a difference.” (06:38)

He adds, “The pandemic has shown us universities’ role in helping us overcome such a global crisis through the creation of effective treatments [and] the rapid development and rollout of vaccines. They demonstrate universities have a huge role to play not just in individuals’ personal success in terms of their career, [but] they have a huge role to play in terms of the wider societal benefits and tackling the world’s biggest and often existential challenges. So, I think these are of fundamental importance in understanding why universities are here and why they make a difference.” (07:07)

Whether it’s reinforcing privilege or greenwashing, education institutions continue to face criticism when it comes to their impact on society. However, Phil says, “I think we do need to start to help universities reframe themselves as saying, ‘We are going to change the world. We are the key to the future prosperity and even safety of this world.’” (07:58)

How to read the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings provide a comprehensive list showcasing the universities with the strongest commitment to the SDGs. However, students can also filter for the top universities in certain SDGs. For example, if you’re interested in building a career in business, you can filter for the best-performing schools in SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. You’ll find the top three schools in this SDG are the University of British Columbia (Canada), the Technical University of Munich (Germany), and the University of Twente (the Netherlands). On the other hand, if you’re more interested in the future of cities and smart cities, you can check out the best-performing schools in SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The top universities in this category are Arizona State University (Tempe) (USA), the University of Glasgow (UK), and Queen’s University (Canada).

Combining traditional university rankings – such as the THE World University Rankings – with the THE Impact Rankings 2022 will give you a huge amount of data to play with and a better idea of each school’s standard of excellence. However, it is also important to note that rankings should only serve as one element of your research.

“My guide with students is that rankings are always just a broad guide,” Phil explains. “They won’t tell you everything you need to know. Nothing replaces your own research – poring over their websites, visiting if you can – but this is a wonderful way of starting to prioritize and starting to understand pockets of excellence and areas of niche strength.” (16:25)

Calling all students: You’ve got the power

This year, over 1,500 universities participated in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022. With more than 25,000 universities in the world, it is crucial to see more schools stepping up to participate. Phil tells us, “I would like to see more of this type of data being used [and] more of this type of ranking getting out there into the consumer space to support students, but really to lean on those universities to do better, to lean on those universities to demonstrate what they are doing, and to be accountable for their contribution to the world.” (09:54)

Phil urges students specifically to use their consumer power. “Universities want you. They want to recruit you. They need to compete for you,” he says. “So, use this data. Use your consumer power to put pressure on universities to show that they are going to make a commitment to [the] SDGs [and] that they are committed to a sustainable future.” (18:02)

As we’ve seen, universities play a key role in driving positive change and solving some of the biggest challenges we face in the world today. Hopefully, the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are just the beginning of a powerful movement in measuring impact in education and holding these global institutions to account.

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