Friday, 29 July 2011

The "Sutton 13" Revisited (or the top 13 UK universities 2012)

University league tables: many hate them, but they are reality. There are also discussions about elite groups of UK universities, such as, Oxbridge, Golden Triangle, the Russell Group, the 1994 group etc. A popular ranking-based elite list is the “Sutton 13”. These are the top 13 universities as identified by the Sutton Trust in 2000, based on an average of the UK universities rankings at that time. They used to be (in alphabetical order; see here and here):
University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Durham University, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College, London School of Economics, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, University College London, University of Warwick, University of York
To the best of my knowledge, this list has not been updated. Thus, I looked at the three current rankings (i.e. the 2012 ones) of the Times, Guardian and Independent (also here) and quickly calculated the combined rank: Now, the top 13 are (in alphabetical order with the actual rank in brackets):
University of Bath (10), University of Cambridge (1), Durham University (7), University of Edinburgh (13), Imperial College (5), University of Lancaster (9), London School of Economics (3), University of Exeter (10), University of Oxford (2), University of St Andrews (4), University College London (5), University of Warwick (8), University of York (12)
What has changed? Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham are out, and Bath, Exeter and Lancaster are in. Interestingly, the first three are part of the Russell Group (the biggish research active universities), whereas the latter three are part of the 1994 Group (the smaller research active universities).
Finally, as always, needless to say that doing such kind of combined ranking is a nice thing to do on a rainy Friday afternoon but it has its obvious shortcomings.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Corporate Governance of the Murdoch Empire – All Secrets Exposed!

That’s the kind of pop-science article I would like to write, if I had the time, and, well, the information available …
Having watched with great interest the Rupert & James M committee hearing earlier this week (transcript here), things look a bit shaky. Here are a couple of things worth exploring (any potential PhD students anywhere?):
  • Structure: What is the precise structure of the Murdoch empire: parent companies, subsidiaries, ownership structures etc? Why is it structured this way: path-dependencies, economic convenience, company law, tax law, etc.? Which legal systems are applicable; are there overlaps or conflicts of law? Should media companies be structured and run differently from normal companies? Or should laws oblige them to do so?
  • Shares: who are the shareholders? Is this known, or does it depend on the specific ownership disclosure rule of the applicable legal systems? How does the dual-share structure operate? When and how was it introduced? Is this bad corporate governance, and if yes does this case show that it should such a structure be prohibited by law?
  • Management: how much does it matter that Rupert is both chairman and CEO of the parent company? Who are the board members, which of them count as independent, under which definition, and does all of this matter? Likewise: how are things in the other companies of the Murdoch group? How far are there personal overlaps?
  • Liability: if it could be shown that the Murdochs “knew something” how would they be liable? Civil or criminal, applicable law etc? Even if they didn’t know anything, can it be argued that there was “wilful blindness? Would it be relevant under UK or US law? Is it a valid counter-argument to say that you delegated responsibility to persons who you trusted? Or that nobody told you? How much does all of this depend on the size of the company and the amount of money involved? Can the board members be liable as well?
  • Family company: does the scandal demonstrate the problem of family companies? Is “the old guy” the problem who doesn’t want to go? Or the young ones who just got their jobs due to family relations? General: how is age rated to good corporate governance? Who is really running the group: Rupert, his wife (advice: don’t get into a fight with her), James or someone else? Practically: how can a family company be transformed into a fully publicly owned company? Would a shareholder revolt be possible? Is there evidence that the family structure of the Murdoch group is the main problem – or is it part of their success story? Is the way the Murdoch family group is run different from family companies in other parts of the world (Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia etc.), and if yes does this matter?
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Postcript: on the family structure see also http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/james57/English

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Do Journal Rankings work? (2) – A comment on market-based rankings

Now, the second part of most post on journal rankings, following up from my comment on expert rankings (available here). Here I’m interested in "market based" rankings; I’m mainly thinking about two methods: a citation statistic (as the W&L ranking) or the number of submissions (i.e., the rejection rate). How would this address the two problems that I identified for expert rankings?
  • The first problem was that the top journal editors may abuse their power by favouring "friends and family". To some extent, this may be possible here as well. Yet, if it goes beyond minor favours, this would negatively impact on the number of submissions and presumably also the citations. Thus, the market approach may be a way to induce publishers and editors to keep up a high-quality of review process.
  • The second problem was that specialised journals and non-mainstream approaches would be disadvantaged. Here, the same problem would arise, because, naturally, the more general and the more mainstream a journal is, the more citations and submissions it gets. That makes such rankings doubtful since they would not actually indicate quality. And, it would also hinder innovation.
So, as a result, again, my overall assessment is sceptical. Of course, a way out of the second problem may be to focus on sub-rankings only, i.e. rankings limited to particular areas of research (as available in the W&L ranking) and a particular types of research. Yet, then the ranking could not be used for a general comparison any more - though this is exactly what a ranking should be able to achieve.

Friday, 8 July 2011

New affiliation: Durham!

A quick personal update - my new university webpage is here.