By Richard Vedder
This is a sequel to Jonathan Robe's excellent blog showing that in "top universities" per capita, the U.S. really ranks fairly poorly, well below many European countries.
This may be a little unfair to America, since the Times Higher Education rankings are based in part on eccentric criteria that are strongly biased against U.S. universities. 40 percent of the rankings are based on academic peer review, and I suspect that European institutions have a large proportion of those doing the reviewing. Another 10 percent is based on "international staff", a criterion I view as positively bizarre. I could care less where the professors come from, as long as they are good. Little Switzerland naturally is going to have lots of staff from countries nearby, while the U.S. may not. The use of citations is more fair, but employer evaluations, while conceptually a great idea, is heavily regionally skewed, if for no other reason that in some nations (U.S. and Australia for example), employers outside these nations are unlikely to hire foreigners who are located mostly thousands of miles away.
In short, I think the Times rankings have a lot to be desired (ditto with the staff to student ratio criterion, which is a pure input measure). Offsetting this bias, however, is the fact that the U.S. spends tons more money per student than all other countries except Switzerland. If we did a "top universities per billion dollars spent", I suspect the U.S. would be even lower in the rankings than Jonathan indicated. Correcting both for the geographic bias and for resources used would be an interesting idea, and Jonathan and I will be pondering this in days and weeks ahead. But I am virtually sure we will conclude that many foreign universities do more with less --being less absorbed in the consumption-socialization dimensions of higher education, and more focused on the academic pursuits about which universities are supposed to represent.