On my most recent rankings — Ranking of Universities in the EU — again appeared the mysterious case of U.S. News‘s lack of a ranking placement for France’s PSL University. PSL ranks very highly on the other three notable world rankings — ARWU, QS, and THE: as I noted in the ranking of EU universities, PSL averages approximately 45th in the world among those three rankings. This average is higher than any other university on the EU ranking (and below only the QS-unranked Karolinska Institute). However, in this article I am going to give an estimate of where USNWR would rank PSL.
PSL University is brand new, technically. It was only formally established as a university in 2019. Its constituents, however, are older — in some cases much, much older. It seems to be these constituents that cause trouble for USNWR, with regard to ranking. USNWR does not seem to realize that these various constituent colleges — which have existed separately for many years — are now, in fact, a single entity. This can be inferred from the fact that USNWR ranks some of these various constituent colleges of PSL. It is these ranking of the individual colleges from which I’ll now construct an averaged, would-be ranking for USNWR. Then, I’ll look at how that fits in with the average we get from the other three rankings. Finally, I’ll see how it squares away with the overall EU rankings.
1. Creating an average ranking of PSL constituents
So, how do the institutions USNWR ranks, rank?
- École normale supérieure: 252
- Collège de France: 402
- École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles: 499
- École nationale supérieure de chimie: 1209
- École Pratique des Hautes Études: 1209
All other PSL constituents are unranked by USNWR.
So what do we get? (252+402+499+1209+1209) / 5 = 714.2 = ~714
Thus, the best we can estimate from the available data is that USNWR would rank PSL around 714 in the world. My hunch is that USNWR would rank PSL — considered as one institution — significantly higher ala the other three rankings. For example, weaknesses in a certain faculty area at one constituent could be expected to be strengthened by another constituent. Along these lines, we should probably expect that these constituents combined would strengthen each other in greater proportion than they would weaken each other. This means that their average undervalues their would-be (and actually-is) collective strength. Further evidence for this is given by the fact that all the other rankings put PSL in or nearly-in the top 50 in the world. However, the above averaging is all we have to go on with regard to USNWR (since we cannot replicate their entire methodology), and despite being far-from-satisfactory, it’s better than what USNWR actually has to offer us in this regard (which is, again, no ranking).
2. Averaging the four rankings
What does PSL rank on the other rankings?
These together give us the average of 44.6666666667, or, ~45.
And how about with our estimate for USNWR? — Well, then we get 212.05, or, ~ 212.
Thus, PSL University’s average across three rankings + USNWR’s average for its ranked constituents = ~212.
3. How PSL compares to the top 20 universities in the EU, given the above
Given PSL’s average of approximately 212, this puts it well outside the top 20 universities in the EU. Currently, the university placing 20th is VU Amsterdam, with an average ranking of 133.25. If the trend of EU-university-worldwide-average continued roughly as it does between 0 and 134 (the interval in which roughly 20 universities place), then we can probably assume PSL places somewhere in the top 50 EU universities — even with an abysmal-by-comparison USNWR placement.
In conclusion, I think the average USNWR rank of PSL constituents is curious. The consistency with which other rankings place PSL at or around the top 50 makes the ~714 average highly suspect. Yes, we don’t have a full picture because not all constituents are ranked, but this is actually more concerning. That’s because the constituents not making the ranking suggests USNWR considers them as not-as-good-as those universities which did make the ranking. Thus, these unranked constituents would likely weigh down an overall PSL rank in a not insignificant way. That said, I also speculated that the constituents that are ranked could — when taken together — end up strengthening each disproportionate to their weaknesses. This would bump up the ranking above the average.
So in the end, I still wish USNWR would just rank PSL University outright so that we can get a better picture of how EU universities stack up.