CoARA and its consequences for university rankings

Our association hosted a workshop to discuss how CoARA is reshaping research assessment and our approach to benchmarking and university rankings, and to fulfill our first commitment to the agreement.
30th November 2023
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In November 2022, our association signed the agreement on reforming research assessment committing to further support our Members in their efforts in this area and to provide an update to the public within one year.

Here we take the opportunity to share with the public that the process has started, with an example being a dedicated workshop on “CoARA and its consequences for benchmarking” which took place on 9 November 2023. The workshop was hosted by our Task Force Benchmark and Task Force Openness of Science and Technology, and provided a platform for Member universities to showcase their progress in implementing CoARA.

Presentation and discussion with invited speakers

In the first part of the workshop, we welcomed three guest speakers to discuss the agreement, its impact on our general approach to rankings, and considerations before signing the agreement.

Elizabeth Gadd, Head of Research and Innovation Culture and Assessment at Loughborough University, is Vice-Chair of the CoARA Steering Board, and first presented the agreement on reforming research assessment and engaged in conversation with representatives from our Member universities, including how to best address common concerns raised by researchers and university communities around avoiding any unintended effects, and ensuring that modern research careers are fully supported.

Frans Kaiser, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente, presented the paper “Ranking the university”, which elaborates on the evolving relationship between universities and university rankings.

Carola Föller, Personal Assistant to the Vice Rector for Research and Early Career Researchers at the University of Stuttgart, shared considerations around the agreement on reforming research assessment from the perspective of the University of Stuttgart and the evolving broader German context.

The agreement on reforming research assessment aims to provide universities with a clear direction for reforming research assessment. Institutions signing the agreement have a year to start the process of developing a strategy, with a milestone envisioned after five years.

Reforming research assessment is a journey, in which participants are encouraged to make use of the available online resources to help signatories fulfil their commitment to the agreement, using for example guidelines and national chapters and working groups.

When it comes to university rankings, the agreement primarily challenges the use of rankings for assessing individual researchers. During the workshop, alternatives to ranking agencies that are user-driven were discussed, although many of them can also come with challenges, such as lacking a single score (by design), which is often used for marketing purposes. The solution there can lie in exploring how these alternatives can be effectively used for promotional purposes as well, or to redevelop the approach to marketing and promoting the university locally and globally. The recommendation paper “Ranking the university” elaborates on these and many other considerations.

The agreement calls for the responsible use of quantitative indicators, combining effectively quantitative and qualitative indicators and ensuring that the right level and context are taken into consideration. Endorsing the complementary Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) also indicates a commitment to responsible research practices.

Input from Member universities, to showcase how progress has started

During the second part of the workshop, representatives of Member universities presented their progress after signing CoARA. We thank Zdeňka Pavlačková, Head of the Research Support Department at the Brno University of Technology, as well as Helen Young, Head of Research Policy and Information Research and Knowledge Exchange Services and Grace Murkett, Research Policy Officer at the University of Strathclyde.

In her presentation, Zdeňka underlined the importance of setting goals both at the institution and faculties levels and of committing resources to these efforts. She also mentioned that researchers were enthusiastic about this proposal. A discussion point following the presentation was that, for technical universities, it is extra important to consider the engagement of non-academic partners such as industry actors in broader efforts.

In their presentation, Helen and Grace presented Strathclyde University’s 5-year plan, as laid out in their action plan (available at, and noted that the agreement pushed for a collaborative instead of competitive approach between institutions and that it also questioned the necessity of continuously measuring performance in a narrow sense. Signing the agreement also aligned with the institutional values and identity of the University of Strathclyde as a socially progressive institution.

Concluding the workshop, Peter Elspass, Head of the President’s Staff Department of University Development & Controlling at Leibniz University Hannover and Chair of the Task Force Benchmark, stressed that participants in the workshop agreed on the necessity of advocating for the responsible use of quantitative indicators. It is up to the further work of the task force to define what a „responsible use“ does mean in practice. Johan Blaus from KTH Royal Institute of Technology also encouraged universities to prioritize being the best ”for” the world, not the best ”in” the world.

Through our efforts over the last year and as exemplified in this workshop, our association remains committed to supporting the reform of research assessment, including by supporting our Members who have signed the agreement. While providing this one-year update since signing the agreement, we take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of supporting modern and stable research careers in Europe and the broader conditions that are needed, as elaborated in the June 2023 position. We stand ready to continue providing our full support to our Members, and to all players committed to advancing research careers including through the reform of research assessment.

For our Members, all presentations can be accessed via our extranet using this link.

For more information please contact Sophie Ratcliff (Advisor for Higher Education).

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