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Global rankings of universities suffer from major flaws and should be largely ignored by governments, institutions and students, according to a new report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute.
International rankings of universities, such as the THE World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, while claiming to identify the ‘best’ universities in the world, in reality are unreliable and "sometimes worse", says the report International University Rankings: For good or ill? from HEPI president Bahram Bekhradnia.
As a result, while they are enormously influential "it is unwise and undesirable to give the league tables so much weight", it adds.
Bekhradnia explains: ‘We have followed the evidence to its conclusion and show that international rankings are one-dimensional, measuring research activity to the exclusion of almost everything else. They do not match the claims made for them. They fail to identify the “best” universities in the world, given the numerous functions universities fulfil that do not feature in the ranking. Indeed, what is arguably their most important activity – educating students – is omitted.
"Universities, their governing bodies and governments should heed our unavoidable conclusion: they should focus on their core functions because it is the right thing to do, not because it may improve their position in any rankings.’
Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, said: "This study is overdue. Many people working in higher education enjoy looking at the league tables to see which universities are up and which are down. But what should be a fun talking point is taken ever more seriously with each passing year.
"Governments are now making funding decisions according to league table positioning and university managers are being held to account for a set of measures which are poorly understood, use questionable data and are limited in scope. This may even cause harm by deflecting institutions from their full range of activities."
He added: "League tables will continue. But we hope those who use league tables will come to take them with a pinch of salt, that league table compilers will improve the data they use and that policymakers will be very careful before using them to set policy."
Related: HEi-think: What do international rankings really tell us about university quality? - Ellen Hazelkorn
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