Regarding rank, again

While most university heads will at some point declare that they don’t like and are suspicious of global rankings, in reality they do pay significant attention to them. This week sees the publication of the QS World University Rankings. One of the trends apparently captured by QS is an interesting one: almost without exception English universities have slipped in the rankings since 2015. This trend appears to be particularly English, asScottish universities have a more varied performance.

Globally Asian universities are on the rise, European ones (including Ireland) are in apparent decline. United States universities are on the whole doing well.

Some may see the performance of English universities as surprising, given that the fees regime of the UK government has given many of them access to more cash and resources; but this does not seem to translate into higher places in the rankings.

Can we actually conclude anything of use from all this? Do these rankings provide potential users (students, industry partners, others) with any worthwhile information? Is a place in the rankings a valid strategic objective? These questions are hardly addressed now in the major higher education debates: many hate the league tables but feel they have no choice but to play the game. That this game has to be played competitively in order to matter at all is shown by the failure of the EU’s U-Multirank project to make any real impression.

Rankings are in fact now a lucrative business. That does not of itself make them bad; indeed, they may tell us things that could have a useful influence on policy. But my advice to universities is not to build strategy around them. Our mission is to provide high quality teaching, valuable research and effective outreach and knowledge leadership. Our strategy must be to succeed in those objectives and to be excellent in communicating that success.

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3 Comments on “Regarding rank, again”

  1. Vince Says:

    How can Warwick 51 or Durham 74 be ahead of UCD at 176. While TCD be at 98.
    If the rest are equally unconnected to reality these are little more than a stick to beat universities with, and they probably enjoy it. For in truth there’s more than a hint of S&M about all this yearly bull dazzle.


    • Well, allowing for all the health warnings about rankings, I don’t think that the relative positions of Warwick and TCD/UCD are wrong – Warwick would have far more resources and much more favourable student/staff ratios.

  2. Vince Says:

    You should hear the balderdash being spouted all morning here. They even managed to get Brown (Galway VC) to set aside his delight at going up in the rankings to keep the party line about the urgent need for more cash. From the students I should mention.


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