Category: Rankings

The impact of charting a new path in university rankings

“Any methodological evolution for an exercise of this size and scale will inevitably yield significant shifts in outcome”

Across the rapidly evolving higher education landscape, universities worldwide stand as pillars of innovation, leadership, and societal transformation.

At QS, our mission is to empower motivated people anywhere in the world to fulfil their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. For two decades, this mission has been driven by analysing and illuminating institutional excellence and supporting international students in their decision-making process.

Read More

The importance of sustainability in students’ university choice

“Considering 45% of 16 to 25-year-olds are suffering from climate anxiety, it’s understandable that they want to study at an institution which shares their vision for a sustainable future”

2023 saw the launch of a new league table for higher education institutions based on sustainability. The QS sustainability rankings set out to measure a university’s ability to tackle the world’s greatest environmental, social and governance challenges.

Likewise, the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which were introduced four years ago, aim to assess universities against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

But do students really think about an institution’s approach to climate action when deciding where to apply?

Read More

Benchmarking sustainable development in higher education

“82% of prospective international students either actively seek out or will be seeking out information on an institution’s sustainability practices”

2023 is set to be the 10th year in a row which will see global average temperatures reach at least 1C above what they were in pre-industrial times.

Governments and organisations across the globe are once again looking to ways in which they can become more sustainable to help stem the onset of climate change. Universities are no exception; and indeed, they are uniquely placed to help deliver environmental change.

New solutions to the climate crisis will be developed by those about to pass through higher education and it is important that this year the sector supports students and staff who are highly invested in the issue.

Read More

2023 predictions for UAE universities

“The higher education landscape in the UAE is on an exciting and dynamic journey and is now a destination of choice for many students”

The UAE has 11 universities featured in the rankings for the top 1,000.  It’s an impressive feat for a country that founded its first university, the United Arab Emirates University, in 1976, but how have they achieved this?

When you ask anyone working in higher education what 2023 looks like, the response is positive. Post-pandemic, the higher education landscape is filled with visions of a digital age and driving research to change the world.

This stems from what has been happening on college and university campuses for the last two years; fuelled by the pandemic, worldwide digital transformation, new learning formats and exploitation of the latest innovative technologies that can take educators and learners to another level beyond the zoom’ pandemic days. The UAE is no different.

Read More

What value do school rankings provide international families?

“Even some highly ranked schools are now questioning whether the benefits of appearing in rankings outweigh the negatives”

As anyone who works in international student and pupil recruitment knows, rankings are revered by many families who believe that they alone provide the ultimate ‘judge’ of whether a school is desirable or not. 

However, should this perception be challenged more than it is?

Major rankings are devised predominantly from public exam results and, of course, high grades are important. However, these grades are often achieved due to the highly selective admissions policies of many highly ranked schools.

Read More

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.
Read More

I contented myself with speculation about rankings…

“The questions in my mind: what do the three main global university ranking compilers do it for? And surely just one small Mojito would be OK?”

Peter Brady, Associate Dean, International at Edinburgh Napier University in the UK, writes on the motives behind the ever-growing number of academic rankings and the temptation to sneak off for cocktails during conferences.

Sitting at a conference around the launch of the THE 100 under 50 in Miami, I wondered if anyone would notice if I slipped out to the poolside and had a Mojito – or two. It wasn’t that it wasn’t riveting. But it was 30 degrees outside with blue skies and azure seas, and OK – it wasn’t riveting.

However, one look at the rather efficient young woman beside me, taking notes, photos and earnestly tweeting made me feel ashamed of such a lack of commitment.

Had I known that she was from The PIE I could have sneaked off to the pool, had the Mojito and just read the tweets – although, a slight flaw in that plan, is that I don’t know how to tweet. Nor do I know how to twerk, and in both cases the world is most probably better off.

“Had I known that the efficient young woman tweeting beside me was from The PIE I could have sneaked off to the pool”

So I contented myself with speculation about Rankings. Not the usual – ‘are they any use?’ – as the answer is obvious: no if you are lowly ranked; yes if you are highly.

No, looking at the scale of the pre-launch made me wonder what is in it for the companies compiling the rankings. After all, THE was hosting an event in the same Miami Hotel where Lady Gaga held her New Year’s party.

Thankfully THE’s own Phil Baty had refrained from donning a meat suit, but it wasn’t cheap and THE isn’t a charity.

In the cases of some rankings, it is obvious why they do it. The Chinese University Ranking had some reputational issues, as it was widely reported in the press that universities were able to pay to boost their position in the table. I don’t see a problem with that as long as it is transparent. We would just have a list of universities most willing to bribe someone – not sure what use that would be, but then again I am not sure what use many rankings are.

But assuming that this is unusual, the questions in my mind were: what do the three main global university ranking compilers do it for? And surely just one small Mojito would be OK?

For Shanghai Jiao Tong University, it appears to be straightforward. No hidden agenda. The Chinese government wanted to develop research universities and research centres of excellence. They funded nine universities for this and Shanghai Jiao Tong was one of them.

A professor from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering decided that it would make sense to be able to benchmark progress against world class universities. And from this, the first global rankings, The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), was born.

It is not surprising, then, that it concentrates entirely on research excellence and is considered by many to be the most transparent.

“It includes measures such as international outlook – whatever that is”

The other two main rankers – I don’t mean Jonathon Ross style ‘rankers’ – rather QS and Times Higher, both have less noble motives.

Both wish to attract interest in their publications and from that generate revenue and enhance their brand.

Both have elements that are non-quantifiable and therefore questioned. QS is considered weakest as it makes extensive use of reputational surveys. Where selected professors are asked to rank universities throughout the world, how likely is it that a professor in one country would know of the overall reputation of all the universities in another?

In the case of THE, it includes measures such as international outlook – whatever that is – and teaching.

But now, despite this, both are spawning ranking-ettes. QS publishes university rankings for Asia, Latin America, and BRICS, and rankings by Faculty by Subject, and Top 50 under 50. And in front of my Mojito-starved eyes, the THE was launching the 100 under 50 for 2014. ‘Why, given the effort involved in compiling these lists, are QS and THE creating so many more?’ I mused.

“Universities are only going to mention rankings that they are doing well in”

Someone more charitable than me may suggest that it was a response to the argument that there are many different types of university and to be more useful there should be comparisons of universities which are similar.

But I don’t think so.

It is quite straightforward. Universities are only going to mention rankings that they are doing well in. So if there are a significant group of Universities who do not do as well in the rankings (such as those under 50), there is not going to be any engagement by them with QS or THE – and thence no revenue.

So the answer was obvious – make a new ranking. At one stroke you have 100 universities that can say they are in the top 100 in the world. All of whom will cite the company that produced the rankings in publications and websites giving free advertising.

And just think about how easy it is to sell space on the website/newspaper/magazine which hosts the list which cites your university as world class!

And as I listened, Phil Baty pointed out that THE would strongly resist the urge to change the age from 50 years. It hit me like the first slurp of cold Mojito in the sunlight – pure genius. Unlike the standard rankings, where year on year there is not a huge amount of movement, and certainly few newcomers, this ranking will be refreshed constantly as universities – like myself – find themselves on the wrong side of the hill that is 50 years old and excluded from the club.

Twelve out of the fourteen UK universities cited in THE’s 2014 list will be 50 in the next few years. So they will drop out if the rankings completely, to have their place taken by completely different universities – all of whom will want to spend money to shout to the world that they are best.

And that is just the UK universities.

So given this, it is unlikely that these companies will stop there. There are so many universities who still haven’t made a top 100 in anything yet – think of the money to be made by the publishers if each and every university could get its place in the sunlight!

So the question I pose to you, dear readers, is what do you think the next world university rankings will be? My suggestion is Top 100 Universities for Management Organisation Janitors Interaction and Theoretical Operations – not because it makes sense but purely for the acronym.

And as for my Mojito, unfortunately I never got it, as the day became more interesting. We began to discuss how the THE could improve the metrics they use in the rankings to make them more useful and I began to muse that having a commercial motivation isn’t always wrong.