World Universities Forum’s Updates

Rankings - Higher Education Systems vs Universities

Photo courtesy of Ad Meskens / WikiMedia Commons | Article Link | by Benoit Millot

International university rankings have become a familiar feature on the higher education scene. As their impact has grown, reactions have followed, running from enthusiastic adherence to passive resistance to outright criticism.

Thanks to the latter, methodologies are improving - guidelines and safeguards are being developed (for example, the Berlin Principles) and followed up (for instance, the International Ranking Expert Group).

Yet serious criticisms relate to the fact that, by definition, these rankings focus exclusively on individual institutions - the world-class universities - which are found only in a small cluster of countries.

Thus, university rankings ignore the vast majority of institutions worldwide that cannot compete on the same playing field as world-class universities. In turn, policy-makers tend to prioritise a small number of institutions in order to improve their country's position in the rankings, often at the expense of the rest of the higher education system.

To counter these unexpected and perverse effects, attempts are being made to measure, rank and compare national higher education systems rather than individual institutions. To figure out whether these attempts are successful, this article compares their results with those obtained by university rankings.