Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has edged past three of its local rivals to claim third position in the latest global ranking of universities.
JKUAT rose at the expense of Strathmore, Egerton and Moi universities which lost ground to rank 67, 80 and 143, respectively, in Africa according to the latest study by Spanish research firm Webometrics.
The study, which was released on Thursday shows that University of Nairobi went up two spots to rank 12 while Kenyatta University jumped 11 positions to number 30 in Africa. The previous ranking was in July last year.
“The improved ranking regionally is proof that our efforts in increasing research volume and impact and improving the institution’s visibility in terms of staff profiles, courses offered and facilities are paying off,” said Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Olive Mugenda.
Last year, Strathmore was third in Kenya and 37th in Africa, Moi was fourth and at position 48 on the continent followed by Egerton University at number 80 in Africa.
The ranking is important for universities in terms of international recognition and branding, which in turn attracts students, faculty and research grants.
The Webometrics study assesses 11,997 universities globally and positions are awarded based on how well they adopt modern research, teaching, and academic publishing methods and how easily this information is accessible online.
Half of the ranking points are tallied from the “visibility” of a university’s website where the assessors inspect the number of external visits it gets.
The other points come from an institution’s level of “activity,” taking into account the number of web pages hosted on the main site, the number of research repositories available and how many academic papers are published on acclaimed international journals.
Webometrics aims to encourage greater adoption of online publications and open access to information.
“A reliable rank is only possible if the web presence is a trustworthy mirror of the university and in the second decade of the 21stcentury, the Web is key for the future of all the university missions,” the bi-annual report states in part.
Globally, UoN was placed 1,326 compared to July’s 1,435 rank, KU improved to 1,706 from 2,455 while JKUAT went up 808 positions to 3,232.
In keeping with the drop exhibited in continental rankings, Strathmore slid to 3,958 compared to last year’s 2,833 while Egerton is now position 4,386 down from 3,960. Moi University’s drop was the largest as it fell to 8,079 compared to July 2012’s rank of 3,391.
South Africa scooped the first eight positions in this year’s Africa rankings, making them the country to beat.
Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria took the first three positions while Harvard University, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were ranked top in the world in that order.
Dr Edward Mungai, a senior lecturer at Strathmore Business School, cautioned that care needs to be exercised when analysing these rankings since they “do not represent the holistic review” of any institution.
“Ranking of universities is important but doing so using the level of visibility on the Internet could be erroneous,” said Dr Mungai, who is the former SBC dean.
“The question is how valuable is this ranking when weighted against other more tangible aspects of an institution.”
A low ranking of Kenyan universities compromises competitiveness of Kenyan graduates in the global labour market. It also means a lower prestige for the local institutions on the international stage, slowing down scholarly partnerships and funding from the top league universities and donors.
Kenyan universities have in the past two years gone big on physical expansion, opening several constituent colleges without a commensurate spend on academic staffing and learning resources such as libraries.
The universities are yet to offer local degrees on a pure online platform, citing high initial costs and a deep-seated culture of classroom teaching. President Kibaki is set to charter 14 new public universities in by March.
“With the support from government coupled with the PhD students who are graduating, even these upgraded institutions will eventually make it to the roll of honour,” said UoN Vice Chancellor George Magogha.