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Rankings under critical eye in the UK

Coinciding thematically with the latest ACA Policy Seminar on rankings, a recently published survey by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) shows that the ways the popular university ranking tables are compiled are not always satisfactory and leave much room for improvement. The UK research analysed five university league tables and investigated how higher education institutions respond to them. The results indicate that measures used in the tables are largely determined by the data available, and not by clear definitions of quality. Furthermore, some of these methods used are poor indicators of the identified qualities, and the methods for calculating scores are not always transparent, and some produce non-standardised results.

Despite the imperfections of the ranking tables, the study stresses that there is a clear demand for them and that they strongly influence both the institutions and the students. The institutions sometimes use the tables as key performance indicators, and especially among international students, rankings are used as a guideline for applying to a university. This influence is believed to become more influential in the future as higher education becomes even more competitive. The rankings have a huge impact on the overall reputation of the institutions and the potential behaviour of academics and collaborating businesses and may even have influence in political policy making. Therefore, as the researchers stress, it is even more important that the information given in the league tables is both accurate and informative.  

The purpose of the study was not to suggest official guidelines but to stimulate a public debate on the way the league tables are compiled and to hopefully affect the methodologies.