More on university rankings – the impact on institutional strategies and processes

After two posts on university rankings and ranking systems, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d seen the last of them at least until the next year’s crop emerges, but no. For the lovers of positional relationships, league tables and arguments about ‘my ranking’s bigger than your ranking’, another piece of news reaches these shores from Europe.

The European Universities Association (EUA) has launched a new project called Rankings in Institutional Strategies and Processes (or, and here’s another acronym for us to remember, RISP). RISP involves Dublin Institute of Technology, the French Rectors’ Conference and Latvia’s Academic Information Centre and will ‘seek to build understanding on how rankings and similar transparency tools impact the development of institutional strategies and processes, and to propose recommendations on how they can be used to promote institutional development while also identifying potential pitfalls that the universities should avoid.’

The project’s final report is anticipated at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015 and the announcement of the project can be found here.

While the issue of rankings may seem a little arcane and of interest only to the policy geeks amongst us, there are two very good reasons why academics and aspiring academics should give thought to these (and associated) developments.

First, because institutions are increasingly developing strategies for research and teaching on the ranking systems their senior managers feel are relevant to them.

Second, because national governments are increasingly making policy about higher education and the allocation of funding on the basis of rankings. For two examples see the cases of Russia and Australia. In the latter case, the country’s Minister for Eduction said in a major speech delivered in April:

‘In the Times Higher Education 2014 World Reputation rankings, Australian universities have just one, the University of Melbourne, in the top 50 compared with three last year. Universities in Asia held eight spots in the top 50, including universities from Japan, Korea, Singapore and China.

We are at risk of being left behind.

We need a renewed ambition.

And it must be bold.

As I have said, my view is that Australia must aspire to have no less than the world’s best higher education system, with several of our universities ranked among the very best in the world.’

And the others?

‘The others must be thriving in other ways – providing tertiary education at a high standard with a competitive approach that means students win out. Because if students win as a result of universities competing for their attention, then Australia’s education brand wins.’

Thus does an academic institutional beauty contest have real and lasting effects on the nature of the higher education we rely on for the pursuit of the Knowledge Society.

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