Democratising information: The student perspective
It is clear that there are huge shortcomings regarding the provision of comparable information on higher education institutions and programmes, yet there is wide demand for this information. For current or prospective students, a real choice of instruments through which they can attain this information does not exist. As a result, they must mainly rely on information provided by their country, offered directly by institutions or found in international comparison tables, which usually take the form of rankings.
Since options are not too broad, rankings, especially if there are only a few dominant ones, start to become influential. Given the well-documented fundamental flaws of rankings, it leads to a precarious situation in which students judge quality by means that are not fit or necessarily intended for this purpose. This is particularly true concerning the quality of teaching. This has a clear impact on institutions, encouraging them to profile themselves “correctly”.
We should invest in alternatives to rankings as they don’t really provide choice nor necessarily represent part of the democratisation of information – rankings have become a pre-processed proxy. Thus, the question arises: ‘How to we democratise information about higher education in a way that avoids negative implications of a reputation race fuelled by rankings?’