Since the release of global rankings in 2003, rankings have become important actors in the higher education landscape and much has been written about their impact on universities and higher education policy. These tools are in particular subject to criticism regarding their methodology, indicators, data sources and capacity to adapt to change. This paper aims to build on existing debates to provide an assessment of the use of the main academic rankings for shaping higher education policy in Europe. To do so, it first examines the main theoretical issues linked to rankings' capacity to be used for higher education policy purposes. Second, the study builds on an EU-wide consultation of research and innovation experts to identify how rankings have effectively been used for higher education policy-making in EU Member States. Finally, we reflect on the extent to which global rankings are compatible with higher education policy purposes.
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Thomas Zacharewicz, Koen Jonkers and Ellen Hazelkorn
In the past, the role of government in nurturing the growth of elite research universities was not a critical factor. Oxford and Cambridge evolved over the centuries of their own volition, with variable levels of public funding, but with considerable autonomy in terms of governance, definition of mission, and direction. Similarly, the history of the Ivy Leagues universities in the United States reveals that, by and large, these elite institutions grew to prominence as a result of incremental progress rather than deliberate government intervention. However, the advent of the international rankings has changed the university landscape in an irreversible way. Today, the creation of world-class universities has become part of the national political agenda, in recognition of the fact that such institutions cannot be rapidly created without a favourable policy environment, direct public initiative and significant financial support, if only because of the high costs involved in setting up advanced research facilities and capacities. In an increasingly global and competitive world, governments want their top universities to operate at the cutting edge of intellectual and scientific development. A growing priority has therefore been to identify the most effective method for inducing substantial and rapid progress in a country’s top universities. While a few nations have opted for establishing new universities from scratch, many countries have adopted a strategy combining mergers and upgrading of existing institutions. In order to accelerate the march towards excellence, several governments have launched so-called “excellence initiatives”, consisting of large injections of additional funding to boost their university sector. Against this background, the main purpose of this chapter is to assess how international rankings have influenced the national policy debate on universities and how governments have actually supported the development of world-class universities. While the first section of the chapter analyses how international rankings have shaped the national debate on the role of higher education, the second part examines the range of policies and programs implemented to support the creation of world-class universities. The final section of the chapter offers a preliminary assessment of the results of these policies and interventions, drawing lessons of experience and identifying the challenges and tensions that may have arisen.
Sebastian Stride, Yoran Beldengrün, Ruggero Cortini, Annamaria Donnarumma, Nicolau Duran, Xavi Gimenez, Matthias Heuser, Francesco Massucci, Sabine Plaud, Guillem Rull and Sonia Veiga
This article aims to illustrate how universities can use indicators extracted from rankings and combine them with ad-hoc indicators in order to better understand their potential, help define strategy and track their progress. The article starts by looking at the world of football rankings and indicators, which provides an excellent prism to question university rankings, both in terms of methodology and function. The second part illustrates the importance of interpretation and the reasons for which indicators and rankings often mean something very different from what appears at first sight. The third part provides a few case studies of how institutions can use indicators to go beyond rankings. The article is built around examples and illustrates the reasons for which universities should be proactive in their approach to rankings. We show that they should (a) never use aggregate rankings beyond communication purposes (and ideally not even for this purpose), (b) select indicators that best reflect specific aspects of their mission that they want to measure and (c) interpret the meaning of each indicator with a healthy dose of scepticism. We conclude that if these three rules are respected then the individual indicators published by ranking agencies provide key benchmarks for universities wishing to gain strategic insights.
Dirk Van Damme
Global rankings of higher education institutions strengthen the higher education system as a global system. They are part of a bigger power field of globalization composed by several, mutually reinforcing drivers of internationalization such as intensifying research collaboration, student mobility, or common qualification frameworks. However, globalization of higher education is far from uncontested. The world has not become flat in higher education. From a global point of view, higher education still is distributed very unequally, both with regard to access and qualification levels as with regard to (perceived) quality. By showing a specific view of the world, tuned towards the perceived centres of academic quality, global rankings make the world of higher education even more unequal and uneven than it already is. Global imbalances in higher education are not a residue of the past. As much as by forces of convergence, the global higher education system is shaped by forces of divergence that are driven by skills differentiation between countries and regions. Huge differences in the skills equivalent of qualifications are not to be seen as dysfunctional, but are the consequence of diverging skill needs. Institutions have to navigate their environment which is both shaped by global convergence and local divergence.
Theory, Methodology, Influence and Impact
Edited by Ellen Hazelkorn and Georgiana Mihut
Alma Maldonado-Maldonado and Christian Cortes-Velasco
This chapter will discuss the current relationship between the worldwide university rankings and their effects on the publication of academic papers in Latin American countries. This paper will analyse the role of knowledge production in the construction of rankings and prestige. The never ending-inequalities in the region are reflected in the type, volume and impact of the knowledge that is produced in the region. The impact of publications in top journals is one of the indicators taking into consideration in some of these rankings. How much harm or help do the worldwide rankings do to higher education institutions in developing countries in growing their research capacity is part of the current debate. Most academics need to follow the lead by the prestigious and recognized publishers and this creates other problems in their countries and institutions. As part of this debate, it is basic to discuss what are the predominant characteristics of the higher education institutions that conduct worldwide research and how distant higher education institutions in developing countries are. Another key question has to do with what the role of the language of instruction is and the function of publications and the importance of scientific dissemination in different contexts. This paper will use available data on academic production, scientific publications, indexes and university worldwide rankings in order to show some of the most interesting relationships between the knowledge produced in these countries, their possible impact based on traditional bibliometrics data and other possible spaces of influence in the countries. Some concepts such as institutional isomorphism, institutional stratification, inequality, and social justice will be used in the analysis.