Friday, 25 November 2016

How good at research is/ was Oxford University? - my scientometric data from a decade ago

About a decade ago I was (with my colleague Peter Andras) doing a lot of scientometric research on university research performance (mainly in the sciences) - and (because I wrote regularly for the Oxford Magazine) we looked closely at the performance of Oxford, relative to other British Universities.

To our surprise, we found that Oxford did not stand out from other British universities - except in volume of production. Once we too account of the number of people, the quality of research (insofar as quality could be measured scientometrically - which is not very validly - albeit the direction of bias would tend to favour, not disadvantage, Oxford) didn't seem any different from the other big British research orientated universities.

Take a look for yourself:

In sum - Oxford was bigger - but not detectably 'better'.

(Later on, we found much the same for Harvard. MIT - on the other hand - was outstanding!)

Note: I completely stopped doing scientometrics, mainly because nobody at all was interested. Universities nowadays are run by managers - and managers are not interested in objective research - indeed they are actively hostile: they just want to cherry pick the data to justify doing what they have already decided to do.


  1. Although I am bound by time-honoured tradition to never mention the name of 'The Other Place', I have long been sure that it isn't even the second-best university in the kingdom. It is living on past merits alone, from the days when Classics was still approached with serious scholarship.

    I remember, about the time I was applying to universities, The Guardian did their yearly university league-table, and this year they must have decided that they were bored of Cambridge coming top every year, so they decided to make it 'the Other Place'. I looked at the breakdown of each column, say, 'student satisfaction', 'quality of careers after graduation' etc. In every column, 'The Other Place' was NOT the top, and all of these were measured by a number out of 10. Then the very final column was for 'IT facilities'. And only in this column did it score the highest - but this column was measured out of 100. They appear to have added this score to the others UNCSCALED, hilariously, to get the answer they wanted.

    It's full of kids who have had superb educations, but are not particularly bright themselves. Good rugger team, too. Two dreadfully-powerful SH-division boxers, too, in my day. But these days, the best thing about that University is its Press. I'd have to admit they still DO produce some wonderful volumes, though terribly overpriced. Though obviously this says nothing about the scholarship at the actual place itself. And it’s really, really nice to see the Dominicans back in their rightful place there, at Blackfriars.

  2. Maybe, overall; but my first book was published by Oxford University Press - it was *not* a good experience, and I never repeated it.

  3. @Bruce

    What was the problem, if I may ask? Were their editors trying to unduly influence what you were writing, or was it more to do with the whole process being awkward?

  4. @D - (As Sam Johnson might have said:) Sheer incompetence, Sir; repeatedly, and at a level I never encountered in any other institution!