Match Students' and Colleges' Preferences

Matching has many applications in real world, e.g. online dating, student recruitment for universities, and jobs seeking in employment market. We introduce a simple bilinear model, and picture the matching problem as ranking. The model provides online recommendations based on existing preference profiles of colleges and students. You can find the related repository on GitHub.


Given $m$ students $\mathcal{S} = \{s_1,\ldots, s_m\}$ and $n$ colleges $\mathcal C = \{c_1,\ldots, c_n\}$. We have the raw information $x_i^s\in \mathbb R^{d_s}$ for a student $s_i\in \mathcal S$, and $x_i^c\in \mathbb R^{d_c}$ for a college $c_i\in \mathcal C$. The notations $d_s$ and $d_c$ represent the number of features in student-profiles and college-profiles, respectively.

Suppose there is a transformation function $f_i^s: \mathbb R^{d_s}\mapsto \mathbb R^d$ for $s_i\in \mathcal S$, $g_i^s:\mathbb R^{d_c}\mapsto \mathbb R^d$ for all colleges, which is dependent on $s_i$. The transformed feature vector for $s_i$ is $z_i^s = (z_{i1}^s, z_{i2}^s,\ldots, z_{id}^s)\in \mathbb R^d$ and $z_i^c = (z_{j1}^c, z_{i2}^c,\ldots, z_{id}^c)\in \mathbb R^d$ for college $c_i\in \mathcal C$.

Let all the transformation functions be linear functions, and assuming that

where $W_i^s\in \mathbb R^{d\times d_s}$ and $V_i^s \in \mathbb R^{d\times d_c}$ are the parameter vectors in $f_i^s$ and $g_i^s$ respectively. The transformation function $g_i^s$ is dependent on $s_i$, because it’s pretty hard to obtain the true preference data (i.e. admission requirements or criteria) from the college side.

We expect to learn these (personalized) transform functions for students, and apply them to calculate the match score between $s_i$ and $c_i$, i.e.

Based on these scores, the prediction accuracy of the model can be evaluated based on some ranking metrics $\mathcal M$ (e.g. MAP, NDCG). Suppose student $s_i$ has a true preference ranking $\pi_i$ over colleges $\mathcal C$. We expect the match scores computed using the transformed functions produce a consistent ranking over $\mathcal C$ with $\pi_i$. Therefore the objective function in learning could be formulated as

where $r_i^s =(r_{i1}, r_{i2}, \ldots, r_{in})^T\in \mathbb R^n$, $\pi(r_i^s)$ sorts colleges in descending order in terms of match scores to $s_i$.

Pairwise Ranking Model

Let $W^s\in \mathbb R^{d\times d_s}$ and $V^c\in \mathbb R^{d\times d_c}$ are the feature transformation matrix for students and colleges. Both are independent on a specific student or certain a college. Therefore, given a ranking list over the colleges from each student, we have all the pairs of colleges based on the student’s preference profile. To student $s_i\in \mathcal S$, he or she may have a preference rankings $\pi_{s_i}$ over some of the colleges, saying $K=5$. Here, we assign each of the colleges in $\pi_{s_i}$ a favorite level or score. The college in the first place will have score $K$, the second place will be scored $K-1$, and so on. Those colleges failing to be elected get nothing. Let $c_{[k]}^i\in \mathcal C$ be the college receives $k$ preference level in $\pi_{s_i}$. Furthermore, denote

A college has an implicit ranking position $K+1$ in $\pi_{s_i}$ if it does not preferred by $s_i$.

We create a scoring model using the cosine similarity between students and colleges. Therefore, the similarity between $s_i$ and $c_1$ could be $r_{i1}=\big[W^s x_i^s\big]^T\big[V^s x_1^c\big]$, and $r_{i2} = \big[W^s x_i^s\big]^T\big[V^s x_2^c\big]$. With some simple manipulation, we redefine $W=\big[W^s]^T V^c\in \mathbb R^{d_s\times d_c}$ as the product of the original two parametric transformation matrices. The similarity between $s_i$ and $c_1$ could be rewritten as $r_{i1} = [x_i^s]^T W x_i^c$.

We borrow the idea from RankNet [manning1995introduction], and create a cross entropy loss function based on all pairs of colleges in students’ preference rankings. For the pair of colleges $(c_{[j]}, c_{[k]})\in \mathbb P_{s_i}$. We define the true probability of $s_i$ prefers $c_{[j]}$ to $c_{[k]}$ as

The bilinear model makes prediction on $s_i$’s the preferences level difference on $c_{[j]}$ and $c_{[k]}$ as $o_{12}^i = [x_i^s]^T W [x_{[j]}^c-x_{[k]}^c]$, and the corresponding probability as $p_{jk}^i = 1/[1+e^{-o_{jk}^i}]$.

Using the two probabilities, we define the CE loss function

and optimize it based on stochastic gradient descent method. Therefore, we have its gradient w.r.t $W$

Given the learning rate $\eta>0$, we update the parameter matrix $W$ iteratively over randomly selected pair of colleges with different preference level for a specific student, saying $s_i$

To explicit present the two individual transformation matrix $W^s$ and $W^c$, we can predefine a fix $d > 0$ and decompose the learned parametric matrix $W$ based on SVD.


[manning1995introduction]: Burges, Chris, Tal Shaked, Erin Renshaw, Ari Lazier, Matt Deeds, Nicole Hamilton, and Greg Hullender. “Learning to rank using gradient descent.” In Proceedings of the 22nd international conference on Machine learning, pp. 89-96. ACM, 2005.