Simon Marginson: Global university rankings - the best of all possible worlds?
The last four years have seen the emergence of two systems of global university rankings, conducted by the Shanghai Jiao Tong Institute of Higher Education and the Times Higher Education Supplement. These rankings generate media coverage throughout the world, with one exception, and have begun to exert direct effects in the marketing and development strategies of many individual universities, and in some nations the policies and priorities of government - indicating the growing role of global referencing in higher education. (The exception is the United States where it is taken for granted that the only rankings that matter are the national tables from US News – though it is widely agreed also that the US News ranking has distorted priorities, e.g. the rise of merit-based aid at the expense of needs-based aid).
Rankings have normalized the idea of a worldwide market in higher education and exacerbated competitive pressures within and between nations. More specifically, in some countries such as Germany and the Netherlands the Jiao Tong University research rankings have focused national government attention on actual or possible policies designed to increase the concentration of research activity in a small number of universities, including recruitment of additional high citation researchers, a group which significantly impacts university performance in the Jiao Tong University rankings. In Europe global rankings are also associated with the formation of the European League of Research Universities and the development of a typology of European institutions more or less along American lines. In East and SE Asia there are discussions concerning the possibility of both a regional typology and a regional ranking system. In some nations new national rankings systems are emerging.
Market research suggests that foreign student choice-making regarding country and institution of study is affected by university rankings data. It is likely also that as with US News in the United States, the global rankings systems are also affecting the flows of doctoral students, elite researchers and the philanthropic and corporate dollar. So the rankings should be solid.