So what do we think of league tables?

I suppose if we are honest, we like them when we do well and we pour scorn on them when we don’t.

University league tables have been a feature of some countries for a while. In the United States, the league table published by US News and World Report has been influential for some time, while in the UK a number of league tables are published annually. There are now also several world rankings of universities, with the best known being the league table produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the world rankings issued by the journal Times Higher Education.

I was a Professor at the University of Hull when the first British league tables were published, and at the time everyone poured scorn on the exercise. But what quickly became clear was that our students, stakeholders and partners took them very seriously indeed, and by now the significance of league tables is hardly ever questioned. It may be the case that we are critical of how some of the information that informs the tables is weighted or processed, but we accept that league tables are here to stay. And on the whole, those who want to come to our universities or do business with them are entitled to know how we compare with others.

Ireland has not performed well in the international rankings, although some of the universities (including DCU) have seen their position improve significantly of late. But what is clear in particular is that the areas in which we are relatively weak will not get noticeably better until we are much more generously resourced and funded. If our standing in the tables in turn has an impact on knowledge-intensive investment in Ireland, as it almost certainly does, we need to ensure that we continue to move up the tables. The government’s recent announcements of funding cuts do not, for the moment, make that development likely.

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One Comment on “So what do we think of league tables?”

  1. In addition to Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of world universities, there are also the THES rankings, Newsweek, Web rankings, G-factor. The results can be quite different from these league tables, depending on the use of performance indicators.

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