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Rankings shape higher education development

Image: David Morris [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

University rankings have begun to influence the development of higher education systems, despite underlying flaws in the data used to generate them, according to the European University Association.

The latest report from the EUA, released on 12 April, finds the influence of global university rankings on institutional and public policy has increased since 2011. Rankings data is now being used by universities to influence institutional strategies and decisions on university partnerships, as well as national immigration policies, finds the report. This is despite the fact that existing rankings cover less than 3 per cent of the world’s academic institutions.

However, the underlying data used to assess universities’ research performance still contains “biases and flaws”, says the EUA, which means there is a danger of misusing rankings. Further concerns raised are that rankings fail to assess research in the arts, humanities and social sciences effectively, or take into account the quality of teaching.

The EUA’s report is the second rankings study to be commissioned by the organisation, following an original assessment published in 2011. Since then there have been significant developments in university rankings, finds the latest study, with the introduction of new classifications as well as changes in the methodologies of existing rankings. The field has also shown a move towards user-driven rankings with the launch of the U-Multirank initiative by the European Commission, says the EUA.

There is a risk, however, that the growing volume of information being collected is increasing the pressure on individual institutions that are striving to improve their rankings performance, says the report.

Another significant change since 2011 is that some rankings providers themselves now draw attention to the limitations of the data used in the classifications, states the report.

The study was conducted by Andrejs Rauhvargers, secretary general of the Latvia Rectors’ Conference, on behalf of the EUA. It was presented during the second day of the EUA’s 2012 annual conference in Ghent.