International rankings and higher education policies
The rankings and awards of universities occurred in a period of public action in France, where international comparisons and benchmarking methods are increasingly important. International rankings are one of the consequences of the implementation of the Organic Law, relative to the budget laws (LOLF), the launch of the Lisbon process and the listing of indicators for international comparison provided by the Observatoire des Sciences et Techniques. All these indicators show at best a stagnation of the position of France while other countries are progressing and that higher education and research are regarded as determinants of growth and competitiveness. The rankings will be one of the elements that will lead public authorities toward structural reforms in higher education and research and to make this effort despite financial constraints on public finances.
Rankings have shown the complexity and fragmentation of the university system and research in France. The weaknesses revealed by the Shanghai rankings have real consequences for the behavior of players. International rankings were, if not the start, at least a factor in accelerating actors in higher education and research rapprochement policy, and this continues today.
The policies pursued in recent years all involve clusters of excellence initiatives for investment in the future through the poles of research and higher education and The Campus Plan. These poles are intended to find high placement in international rankings.
Simultaneously, the Ministry is aware of the limitations of current international rankings, based almost exclusively on research criteria. The logic of differentiation – that of international rankings – also implies recognition of the differentiation of criteria for excellence in universities. For this reason, at the initiative of the French Presidency of the European Union, there will be developed "a tool in the service of students, for them to be informed about education opportunities available in Europe and to choose a European course based on their own career plans". This classification must be "multidimensional, independent, transparent and global." The concept of multi-dimensionality is important because it refers to the diverse forms of excellence and, ultimately, differentiation of universities, according to the logic of diversity patterns and student choice.