In the first decade of the 21st century, comparing universities became the in thing, which gave rise to a multitude of so-called rankings, both national and international ones. The Shanghai or Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was the first global one of these, published in 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. This particular ranking aims to assist Chinese students in choosing a foreign university. Other rankings then followed suit, such as the British Times Higher Education ranking (THE, 2004), the Leiden ranking (CWTS, 2007), QS (2010), U-Multirank (2014) and US News (2015).

European approach

U-Multirank is the European (EU) answer to all preceding Anglo-Saxon-oriented rankings. This is not a ranking in the strict sense of the word as it does not provide ranking lists as such but surveys, allowing students to select indicators covering many university realms, such as research, education, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional collaboration. Rankings have come in for criticism because universities are complex entities that defy being reduced to a single number. To assess quality, rankings choose combinations of indicators that are subjective. Many indicators that are used and combined, are relatively easy to collect but may not matter much from a quality point of view, such as reputation.


Regardless of such scruples, there are three overall rankings that set the standard: THE, QS and Shanghai. THE focuses on international education and research reputation, citations, student-to-staff ratios, research revenues per scientist, private sector research revenues and numbers of international staff and students. CS focuses on scientific reputation, employer reputation, citations, staff-to-student ratios and the proportion of international staff and students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University uses four indicators to measure research quality: highly cited researchers, number of scientific papers per scientist, number of papers in Nature and Science (if applicable) and quality of education, as expressed in the number of Nobel prizes (or similar ones) won by former or present staff members of the university concerned. With more scientists, bigger universities do better in the overall rankings than smaller ones, such as Tilburg University. In spite of this general tendency, the three rankings mentioned above put Tilburg University in the top 3 percent (top 500) of all 17,000 universities worldwide: top 200 in one ranking and top 300 or 500 in the others. In the subject rankings, if we look exclusively at specific domains of science, Tilburg University is doing markedly better: top 50 for Economics, Finance Business and Management; top 100 for Law, Social Sciences and Psychology; and top 200 for Arts & Humanities.

Dutch rankings

There are three annual Dutch rankings: Elsevier Beste Studies, the Keuzegids Hoger Onderwijs and the Keuzegids Masters. In 2017, Tilburg University ranked 3rd out of 13 in Elsevier Beste Studies, 4th in the Keuzegids Hoger Onderwijs and 3rd in the Keuzegids Masters. On display in the first-floor hall of the Goossens Building, there is a quotation by Wim T. Schippers, who held a Leonardo Professorship in Tilburg, which puts all these rankings into perspective: “It’s good, but it could be great.” Current info on rankings can be found at www.tilburguniversity.edu/rankings