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Joining the 200 Club

USP and Unicamp climb the global ranking of universities

Two Brazilian institutions, the University of São Paulo (USP) and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), are among the top 200 in the world, according to the fourth annual ranking of the Higher Education Supplement of the British newspaper The Times. USP ranks 175th, together with the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst, USA – a better position than USP achieved in 2006 (284th) and in 2005 (196th). Unicamp, which now ranks 177th, advanced even more. In 2006, it ranked 448th. Had Unicamp ranked higher than USP on any factor, it might have done even better than USP. The list is prepared on the basis of several criteria combined. The main one is peer analysis, which accounts for 40% of the final grade. Five thousand  one hundred researchers were interviewed, of whom 41% were from Europe, Africa and the Middle East, 30% were from the Americas, and 29% were from Asia and the Pacific Region. The opinion of companies  hiring new graduates is also factored into the equation, as well as indicators of academic production and innovation, among others. The ten first places went to British and American universities – Harvard, once again, tops the list, followed by Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. In the top 200, there is only one other Latin American institution: Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autonoma, which ranks 192nd. As for the developing world, it has only one more university on the list: the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, in 200th place.

Undoubtedly the academic production of Brazilian universities has been growing every year, but changes in the ranking’s methodology also explains USP’s and Unicamp’s progress. The organizers of the assessment asked the  academics interviewed to list 30 universities that they regarded as global leaders in their fields, but for the first time ever prohibited them from voting for their own institutions. “This certainly helped to create room for Unicamp to emerge”, celebrates José Tadeu Jorge, its president. “This is probably the result of our strategy of sending increasingly more students to do part of their undergraduate courses abroad, especially in Europe and in Latin America. The quality of these students has helped to make Unicamp  better known”, he said.

USP president Suely Vilela, on the other hand, does not believe that the change in methodology had a great impact on the performance of the institution she heads. “Our position in this ranking has fluctuated substantially over the last few years, but another ranking of universities whose criteria have remained unchanged and which is produced by the University of Shanghai shows that our indicators have improved every year. We climbed from the 165th place in 2003 to 153rd in 2004,  139th in 2005 and  134th in 2006. Now we rank 128th”, said Suely. She ascribed USP’s performance to a set of factors that range from the competence of its human resources to the teaching and financial autonomy that the São Paulo state universities enjoy.

Another factor that helped these two Brazilian universities was the unprecedented use in this ranking of the Scopus database for measuring the number of times  articles by  authors from each university are quoted, this being one of the indicators of the quality of their academic production. Marketed by the Elsevier publishing house, Scopus contains abstracts and references for fifteen thousand peer-reviewed periodicals, replacing the renowned database previously used, Thomson-ISI. The reason for the replacement, according to the ranking’s organizers, is that Scopus covers a larger number of publications in languages other than English. USP and Unicamp also benefited from Scopus’ greater openness to publications focusing on biology and engineering, areas in which both have a lot of tradition.