The Impact of Rankings on Higher Education


How are rankings influencing and impacting on higher education?

While higher education rankings have been part of the US higher education landscape for decades, recently they have become increasingly prevalent in countries around the world. The Shanghai Jiaotong Academic Ranking of World Universities  and Times QS World University Rankings attract media attention as they meet a need for ‘consumer-type’ information independent of the higher education sector or individual universities.


Rankings are a manifestation of the new competive higher education environment and a driver of change. While the extent to which these changes are positive or perverse is still debatable, HEIs are concerned about their impact on their reputation, and ability to recruit international and postgraduate students, from academic partnerships, and ensure graduate employment opportunities.


Key questions

Some of the key questions being addressed by IMHE are:

  • How should governments and institutions respond to the reputation race?
  • What are the financial costs of building and sustaining ‘world class’ excellence?
  • Can societies afford this level of investment, without sacrificing other social and economic objectives? 
  • How should national and international comparition be made?
  • Who should make them and what are the appropriate metrics?


IMHE work

IMHE and the International Association of Universities (IAU) sponsored a study in 2006 asking how HEIs are responding to rankings, and what impact or influence the higher education rankings are having on institutional leaders, their faculty and students, and on key stakeholders. 

In 2008 Phase 2 was launched with focus on institutional and stakeholder views of the impact of rankings. Interviews are currently being conducted with HE leaders, their students and staff, and with policymakers, business organisations and trade unions in Germany, Australia and Japan, i.e. countries with recent policy initiatives to prompt excellence and exposure to national and worldwide rankings. This phase is organised incollaboration with the Institute of Higher Education Policy’s New Agenda for College and University Ranking and from Lumina Foundation.

HEIs and HE organisations are invited to share their experience of rankings. A self-study is available for institutions wishing to participate. For further details contact IMHE.


Further reading





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