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UI seeks the highest research ranking

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 10, 2021

By Angela Palmero Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The University of Idaho hopes to join 130 higher education institutions across the country, including Washington State University, in achieving the highest rank for research activity.

Chris Nomura, vice president for research and economic development at UI, detailed how the prestigious status might be reached during a lecture Tuesday as part of the Malcolm M. Renfrew Interdisciplinary Colloquium series.

“This is a quest worth pursuing for the University of Idaho,” Nomura said. “R1 is shorthand for a top research university — many people use that as an indicator, but it’s also important for things such as national or international rankings.”

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education currently recognizes UI as an R2 (Research 2) university, indicating “high research activity.” Idaho’s other four-year universities, Boise State University and Idaho State University, also are classified as R2.

UI is pursuing the rank of R1 (Research 1), which signifies “very high research activity.”

WSU, along with Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other high-ranking schools, is currently classified as R1.

“In some ways, these rankings are very fluid,” he said. “Carnegie can change their system. They have in the past and they may do so in the future, but we have no way of understanding what they’re going to do.”

The classifications are based on research activity using a combination of different metrics, according to Nomura.

Both R1 and R2 distinctions include institutions that awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees and had at least $5 million in total research expenditures in 2018. Factors that increase the likelihood of achieving the highest ranking include research and development expenditures in science and engineering, as well as the number of doctoral degrees awarded in humanities, social science and other fields.

“It’s a combination of all these different elements that the Carnegie organization uses,” he said. “They compare these various categories with a series of weighted metrics in order to come up with those rankings.”

In determining the cutoff point between R1 and R2 institutions, Nomura compared the university’s ranking to others with different outputs.

Based on data from 2018, UI ranked 127 out of 260 higher education institutions across the country for total research expenditures. For doctoral degrees, the university ranked 203 out of 260 institutions.

“These figures demonstrate that expenditures and doctorate production have a major impact on one’s placement,” Nomura said. “We’re not in the lowest end and we’re not in the highest end.”

UI has enough research expenditures to indicate it could be competitive, but has a relatively low number of doctorates when compared with the other institutions.

He says large increases in doctoral production and post-doctoral researchers is necessary to move the university’s position.

“We’re getting closer to this edge, but we still have a way to go,” he said. “In our quest for R1, the university has made some significant investments to bolster research.”

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