Nowadays, rankings are increasingly popular to measure universities’ performance. While many institutions are critical about ranking methodologies, these ratings – because of their simplified and easily understandable way of presenting reality- seem to have a growing impact on institutions. But what exactly is this impact for European universities? An answer can be found in Rankings in Institutional Strategies and Processes: Impact or Illusion?, a new publication by European University Association (EUA), released in early November. The study is part of the broader Rankings in Institutional Strategies and Processes (RISP) project, which aims to identify how HEIs use rankings as a strategic tool to promote institutional development.
The main conclusions are that such an impact is partly real, partly an illusion. Although universities do not carry on a systematic and coherent reflection on rankings, they pay attention to rankings as a source of information among others. Also, they often re-use and elaborate the rankings for benchmarking or for their marketing activities. In general, rankings have helped to increase awareness of the changing dynamics of the higher education environment, both nationally and internationally, especially in response to increasing focus on quality and performance.
In the context of globalization, cross-national comparisons are inevitable and universities are called to provide meaningful, comparative information about institutional performance to the public. In this sense, European universities took action by improving some institutional processes such as monitoring and data collection mechanisms, by investing in enhancing their institutional image and clarifying and adjusting their institutional profiles and core activities. The EUA publication finally provides also a Framework for Guiding Institutional Responses to Rankings, which represents a useful tool for higher education institutions to reflect on their activities.