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Internet academies

Brazil is well placed in the ranking of universities that know how to disclose their production on the web

buenoIn order to be really considered good, a university must make available to the public its scientific production by way of the internet. This provocative concept guided a world ranking of tertiary level institutions created by the Cybermetrics Laboratory, of the Information and Documentation Center (Cindoc) part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). In this classification, launched for the first time in 2004 and updated every six months, taken into consideration is the volume, visibility and impact of the scientific content covered in the dominions of the web of each university.

The list of universities which are good with the internet reiterates the vanguard of the North American Institutions, but Harvard, the number 1 in the world in more consecrated rankings, those published by the English newspaper The Times and by the Chinese Shanghai Jiao Tong University, only appears in third place, overtaken by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University. However, the situation of the European universities is frankly unfavorable – the result of little concern in disclosing on the network their prolific scientific production. The major discrepancy hits the French universities. The University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 is the French institution that appears in the best position on the Cybermetrics list – and is in a disadvantageous 298th place. Then comes the École Normale Supérieure, in 18th position in The Times ranking, drops down to 334th place in the Spanish laboratory’s classification.

In the vacuum opened by Europe, there was space leftover for countries such as Brazil. The University of São Paulo (USP), in 97th place, and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), in 190th position, appear in the Cybermetrics list more than one hundred positions ahead of their placements in the ranking from the Shangai Jiao Tong University. The zeal with which they take care of their domains on the web, helps to understand their good placement. Unicamp, for example, determined that the references to the institution on personal pages and in studies from the teaching staff are standardized to facilitate the task of those doing the ranking. “But the most relevant question is that our scientific production is strongly linked to the best periodicals and the major part of them is on the internet”, says Unicamp’s pro-rector of Research, Daniel Pereira.

A significant portion of the Unicamp researchers have created personal links in which they disclose their academic activities. The university does not just give support to this initiative, but is attempting to turn these pages more viable and accessible. An experiment is taking place on the page of the Pro-Rectory of Research, with the creation of a link for “virtual thematic networks at Unicamp”. Such networks are no more than the lists of researchers and of their personal pages involved in major research areas such as nanotechnology, bioenergy, public health, and information technology, among others. “We want to give visibility to the researchers within these areas in order to identify new partnerships and opportunities”, says pro-rector Pereira. The Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) is another positive highlight. It emerges as the third Brazilian institution in the ranking, in 281st place in the general classification. “The internet was born early at our university and shortly afterwards all laboratories, research groups and subgroups had their homepages linked to the institution”, says UFSC’s vice-rector, Ariovaldo Bolzan. “We were the first institution to make available all of our theses in PDF format, this way back in 1990’s.”

The index obtained by the institutions result from the weighing of four factors. One of them is the quantity of institution pages identified by four major search tools. The second involves visibility and evaluates the number of external links that refer to the university page. The third measures academic production, evaluating the number of Word, PDF, PowerPoint and postscript archives, a symptom of availability on the web of theses, seminars and presentations. Finally, the Google Scholar tool is made use of to know the number of the institution’s scientific articles available on the web in open access electronic publications. Harvard was the first only in the item Google Scholar, being overtaken by its rivals in the first three factors.

The methodology, naturally, does not rival with that of the conventional rankings, those that effectively draw upon the academic consistency of the institution, contemplating variables such as the existence of Nobel Prize winners, the impact of scientific articles and the opinion of academics. “Two major English institutions, Manchester University and Imperial College, appear in a very unfavorable situation, in spite of the high quality of their academic production”, observes Unicamp’s pro-rector, Daniel Pereira. “It’s interesting to be well placed on the Cybermetrics ranking, but our objective continues to be that of being among the hundred best in the world – in  the traditional rankings”, he says.

Those responsible for the Cybermetrics laboratory state that their intention is not to de-value consecrated universities. “If an institution’s performance is below the expected position in accordance with its academic excellence, its administrators should reconsider their policy in relation to the web and improve the quality and the quantity of their electronic publications”, suggests Isidro Aquillo, one of the researchers who carried out the ranking. “Our objective is simply to provide extra motivation for researchers throughout the world to publish their scientific content on the web in greater abundance and quality”, he finalized.