Chapter 6: The Impact of Rankings on Institutional Behaviour and Policies
INTRODUCTION In the previous chapter we examined the role of non-governmental league tables of university reputation and performance, notably those produced by newspapers and other private entities, including the rankings produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong Institute of Higher Education. Particularly, we described these rankings as a source of private authority that was becoming globalized in two senses. First, rankings of universities as whole institutions or through subject evaluations are found across the world. Although originating in the USA they operate now in nearly all the major national systems of higher education. In this sense, rankings are an example of localized globalization, or globalization materializing in national locales. Second, we are witnessing in recent years the growth of global university rankings, with ‘world-class institutions’ compared with each other through indicators judged to offer the basis of comparability and standardization, predominantly research performance and transnational reputation. The proposition we advanced was that compilers of league tables may be described as ‘embedded knowledge regulators’. Increasingly they operate as significant influences on institutions, and many higher education stakeholders regard them as authoritative and knowledgeable market participants. This is not to overlook the criticism that institutional league tables especially attract from within universities – for their alleged poor methods and apparent obliviousness to increasing institutional diversity, for example. But university rankings are best judged less for their technical accuracy than for the impacts that they have on institutional behaviour and on those seeking to avail themselves of university programmes or products. What are the effects...
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