What will be changing in the Impact Rankings in 2023?

In order to take a deeper look at how universities approach the UN’s SDGs, we are refining and expanding our questions for the THE Impact Rankings 2023.

August 10, 2022
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With input from the Impact Rankings advisory board, we are currently working on the detailed methodology for next year’s THE Impact Rankings. This will be published before data collection starts, but the process of editing the methodology document – and translating it – means that it will never be available as soon as some people would like.

So, as an early advisory, this blog will highlight some of the more significant changes that are being made. This is, of course, not a replacement for the methodology itself!

UNHCR

We want to continue to support the mission of UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), and so after discussions we will once more be emphasising the importance of universities providing services that focus on displaced and refugee students and staff. Some of these changes can be seen below.

Education for sustainability

We have always wanted to deepen our understanding of how universities are building sustainability into their curriculum so this year, after discussions with the great people at Sulitest, we are expanding our question in SDG 17.

In question 17.4.1 we will be asking if universities provide sustainability education through optional courses for all, mandatory courses for all or if sustainability is integrated across the full curriculum.

In question 17.4.3 we will be clearer about different types of people that could be part of wider community education around sustainability, including alumni, local communities and displaced people.

90 per cent questions

A challenge that we have frequently raised is what to do when universities are all answering “yes” to some of the questions we ask. Sometimes these questions are so fundamental that we will want to keep them as they are. But in many cases, we will want to expand the questions so that they capture more information. 

We have looked at every question where more than 90 per cent of submitting institutions responded positively (even where they were unable to provide evidence) and have explored if they can be expanded.

This year, the advisory board have recommended that we focus on four SDGs: 3 – good health and wellbeing; 4 – quality education; 11 – sustainable cities and communities; and 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions.

In SDG 3 we will expand the questions around health outreach programmes in question 3.3.2 to identify specific groups where the programmes might be targeted – local communities, focused work with disadvantaged people and refugee communities.

Question 3.3.3 that looks at shared sports facilities will refocus on charged or free access.

Question 3.3.5 will now look at active promotion of mental health, as well as provision of (or signposting to) services.

In SDG 4 we will look further at two questions around lifelong learning, with an emphasis on provision of free access.

In question 4.3.1 we will ask if universities provide free courses leading to a certificate or award, access to facilities and equipment, and access to online resources.
When looking at educational events in question 4.3.2, the focus will again be on provision of events for free.

SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities – had many questions that fall into the 90 per cent group, so there are several changes, especially in question 11.2.

For question 11.2.1, which looks at public access to buildings, we will be exploring if access is free or charged.

In question 11.2.2 that looks at library access, we want to understand if there are limits or barriers to access, asking if access is automatic and free, or if it is limited through application processes or by specific circumstances.

When we look at public access to museums in question 11.2.3, we again want to understand if this access is free or charged.

In question 11.2.4, which explores public access to green spaces in the university, we ask if the access is permanent or limited and if it is free or charged.

Universities are clearly playing a major role in contributing to the arts and to heritage through performances, so we will be exploring the number in question 11.2.5.

And in question 11.2.6, where we ask about recording and preserving cultural heritage, we will ask about local and national heritage, but add in a question about the heritage of displaced groups.

The final changes in SDG 11 are around the provision of affordable housing, here we will be asking if universities are actively evaluating affordability for students and staff, and then if they are providing affordable housing directly, or if they provide financial support.

Finally, in SDG 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions – we will look at two questions. In 16.2.2 we will further explore the role of student unions at a university, asking if they provide governance input, support, and social activities. In question 16.2.6 we will dig a little deeper into policies on academic freedom, looking at both freedom to teach and research, and its applicability to senior and junior faculty.

Links to evidence 

One of the important commitments that universities make is that the evidence they are providing is in the public domain. We have noticed that for a few universities the evidence they provided became unavailable during the year.

Obviously this can be caused by factors beyond the control of the data teams, but we will be expecting links to remain valid for a year from the publication date or until the next data collection.

Year 

Last year, in response to the pandemic, we provided specific guidance on the years of data required for specific fields. For this year we are reverting to expecting data to come from a single academic year: 2021.

The exception is that for annual reports we will now accept bi-annual reporting – providing it covers the relevant year.

Evidence

We appreciate that providing evidence takes time and effort. For this year we are reducing the maximum number of pieces of evidence from three to two.

Duncan Ross is chief data officer and Hannah Peacock is Impact Ranking product owner at Times Higher Education

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