The introduction situates the evolving history of ranking in the context of the changing role and significance of universities, and the values against which universities are measured. Looking back, it identifies four main phases, covering the period from 1900 to today. Looking forward, the authors note that hyper-globalisation, demographic changes, the climate crisis, and technological revolution have dramatically reshaped geopolitical relations and the world in which we live, work and socialise. These changes are having a profound impact on the role and public perceptions of higher education and research - with implications for rankings. Are policy and societal interests today still focused on the number of universities in the top 20 or top 100 – or is there much greater concern around equity, student outcomes and the societal impact and role of universities? And if they have changed, are rankings still useful?