What’s the Use of Rankings?

The increasingly global nature of higher education has inevitably led to considerable debate (e.g. Brooks, 2005; Dill and Soo, 2005; and Altbach, 2006) about the nature and validity of rankings for higher education institutions (HEIs). Most of the research based evidence, presented in favour of one or other viewpoint or ranking system, has concentrated on the validity of the ranking processes or criteria and, with a few exceptions (Marginson, 2007), has largely ignored the question of whether ranking in general is of some benefit in the global HE sector. This paper argues that whilst ranking systems might not always be objective or fair, they are nonetheless here to stay and (used sensibly) are an excellent way to drive positive changes within institutions that will eventually benefit both students and faculty. Using the World University Rankings published by QS Quacquarelli Symonds as an illustrative example, it demonstrates the positive institutional changes that can be achieved through both the debate, and the institutional analyses which are stimulated by ranking publication.

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