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I had a discussion recently in which it was stated that Scotland having more universities in the top 200 per capita than any other country is a good indication of the intelligence of the population of Scotland:

NOTE: I am not questioning the intelligence of Scots, just this calculation's validity

I don't see any way to compare the measurement of a population's intelligence by this method. For example: if Dundee, Scotland's lowest ranking (in the 200) university, fell just 4 places to 201, the entire country's intelligence measured in this manner would drop drastically. Then if it rose one place it would rise again by the same level as the fall of 4 places. If the five universities in the top 200 were at places 1,2,3, 4 and 5 there would be no change.

As well as that, funding can be external as in the UK's case the Scottish universities receive some EU and UK Research Council funding which, even if Scotland is at a tax/public spending surplus could still cause fluctuations which do not affect the intelligence level of Scots but will most likely affect their university positions in the top 200. Many students, staff and teachers are also not Scottish so really the measure of how intelligent a population is (using this method) comes down to those who make the decisions in the universities.

Am I missing something here, is this a useful calculation at all and does it relate to a country's intelligence? Are there any useful indicators of the population of a country's intelligence?

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    $\begingroup$ Is it that universities are intelligence factories, so Scotland makes more per capita; or that Scotland needs plenty of good universities to use up all the smart people it has? The most obvious retort to the assertion is not that the quality of a country's further eduction provision is a somewhat rough & ready measure of its population's intelligence, but that it's not a measure at all. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi Feb 28 '14 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Note that none of its flaws really seem to relate to its being a per capita measure either. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi Feb 28 '14 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ The last question "are per capita measures useful" is a very interesting and very broad question, and bound to receive mainly opinion-based answers. The main, much more focused question, is a methodological nightmare: how intelligence is defined in this context? Is it not important what kind of Universities are we talking about? Do all scientific disciplines require the same "kind" of "intelligence"?, Isn't funding a huge factor? etc, etc -aside from the other issues made in the other comments. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Feb 28 '14 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ So really not only is per capita university placement not a useful indicator of population intelligence, you are all saying that university world scores are not useful indicators? @Scortchi this pretty much answers my question if you fancy writing it in answer form. $\endgroup$ – Ross Drew Feb 28 '14 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ University rankings are useful as indicators of University performance/quality, with all the uncertainty, issues, approximations etc that may surround such composite measures. Aggregating University rankings per country (or per any other concept of aggregation), is what appears to exceed the threshold of "scientifically bearable". $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Feb 28 '14 at 12:53

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