How much do academic rankings really mean to students?
When asked outright: “Did any traditional rankings of this university influence your decision to study at this university?” 77% of the student respondents answered “No”
Are rankings really that important to students? Nelli Koutaniemi, coordinator at Study Advisory, shares the preliminary findings of a survey that suggests student satisfaction doesn’t always correlate with league tables.
Student mobility and digitalization are the megatrends of our time. There are currently 200 million students enrolled in a higher education institution, and that number is projected to exceed 660 million by 2040. Finding the most suitable option of education is, however, difficult and the competition between students for universities is tough. In addition, search patterns have changed: rather than visiting campuses or education expos nationally, students look for information online, and to be more specific, globally online, since future students are increasingly looking to apply to study abroad.
Universities and colleges are slowly starting to respond to the new rules of student recruitment, and marketing budgets are growing steadily each year for both private and public institutions. However, crucial information is often scattered here and there, and comparing institutions is both time-consuming and difficult.
What’s the most valuable information for future students?
Academic rankings such as QS, THE, ARWU and CWTS have been familiar to the higher education industry for over hundreds of years. As they typically aim to measure the quality of an institution with qualitative and quantitative ways, they provide a trustworthy way to compare universities both on a national and international level. Ranking universities can help demonstrate otherwise transparent information that can be highly valued to political decision makers, academic job seekers, alumni, current students and their future employers.
But exactly how valuable are academic rankings for future students? According to a new international survey, carried out by Melissa Demel together with Study Advisory, more than three out of four students think that academic rankings had no influence when choosing a university. Universities that were listed in any of the top rankings of the four leading academic ranking platforms cover only a small fraction of the over 18,000 institutions in the world. There is a large number of “medium-quality” institutions that attract equally large intakes of new students every year who simply do not make the cut.
Research: academic rankings versus peer reviews
A global survey compiled the statistics of the satisfaction of 2049 student respondents, representing 77 different nationalities. Participants answered the survey, where they rated their universities on the following six categories: Teaching, Student Services, Campus, Value for Money, Internationality and Security. The ratings were then combined and evaluated to create a “Satisfaction Index” for the 231 participating universities.
The student respondents rated an overwhelming 86% of their universities “Good” to “Very Good” overall on the “Satisfaction Index”. However, only 28,6% of these universities was listed in any of the top rankings of the four leading academic ranking platforms that were used for comparison. When asked outright: “Did any traditional rankings of this university influence your decision to study at this university?” 77% of the student respondents answered “No”.
“The meaning of studying is more than a name on a degree certificate or the university’s name on a resume. It is also the comfort on campus and in the city of the university and spending unforgettable moments with student friends”
We are starting to see a trend that many students are still quite satisfied with their place of studies, even if it doesn’t currently shine on any of the traditional academic rankings. Academic rankings still have value to some, but many are looking for a place to study based on other very important elements instead. The meaning of studying is much more than a name on a degree certificate or the university’s name on a resume. It is also the comfort on campus and in the city of the university, the feeling of security and spending unforgettable moments with one’s student friends.
The final results of the research will be published as a bachelor’s degree thesis in August of 2016.
Providing peer reviews online
Universities need to acknowledge the importance of positive peer evaluations, which can provide serious competitive advantage when recruiting future students. One of the solutions is Study Advisory, the “TripAdvisor” of universities. 12,000 higher education providers are listed on the website and students can rate their institutions in same categories used in the research from quality of teaching to security. The service was launched online in September of 2015, and has been growing steadily ever since, closing a successful crowdfunding round just last month. There is currently no similar service that is as easy to use, lists universities from each country or allows its users to compare universities not only by their academic success but also by other criteria such as student satisfaction.
Student reviews form a new university rating; the Study Advisory Popularity ranking, which will rise in importance next to the most frequently used university rankings as a new way of comparing universities. This way, those thousands of universities who do not get any visibility in academic rankings, which list only a fraction of the world’s universities, gain some well-deserved visibility with the help of student reviews.
This search engine enables the user to filter institutions for example by their location, tuition fees or number of students. After that, comparing the search results is easy and the profile pages display all four traditional academic rankings alongside the peer evaluation-based Study Advisory Popularity ranking. Universities have the possibility to join an annual subscription and provide potential students with more information about their operations, student exchange and degree programs.