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Expanding access to global university rankings: From ‘crème de la crème’ to ‘best of the rest’

With the publication of its 2011/12 World University Rankings, Times Higher Education (THE) has for the first time included an additional 200 ‘best of the rest’ universities. In other words, instead of ranking just the top 200 universities worldwide, as it did in past years, it now ranks the top 400 universities around the world, giving visibility to universities other than the usual contenders in the UK, USA and Australia. 

This widening of access to the rankings, however, is not accompanied by an increase in the transparency of the scores. The overall scores of universities ranked below the top 200th place are withheld by THE. Considering that universities ranked between 154th and 200th are competing with each other for a difference of less than five points in the overall scores, the absolute difference between universities ranked beyond the top 200 universities is questionable, but not disclosed.

What is clear is that more universities are made visible globally through the expansion of such highly publicised rankings. THE is not the only ranker growing its lists. The QS World University Rankings, for example, ranked 700 universities this year, and added a specific ranking exercise for institutions from Latin America. Neither THE nor QS fully explains the motivations for the growth of their ranking lists. An interest in providing ranking information that extends more broadly across the landscape of global higher education may be one factor. The close association of these rankers with the advertising industry points to another possible motivation for this development, however, particularly when the rankers are actively courting universities to advertise with them through a variety of channels.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings QS World University Rankings