How to Take a Strategic and Data-Driven Approach to Rankings

Rankings are a lot more than great marketing fodder; they can be a crucial component of your university’s long-term planning and strategy.

Global university rankings have become an important part of a university’s appeal and arsenal, but it’s not all about reputation and prestige.

Previously, rankings have been used primarily for external purposes, such as marketing. However, that’s slowly changing as savvy universities looks towards its internal uses.

The 2020 QS World University Rankings were released recently and they provided a clear framework for how each of its 1,000 top universities could improve.

From drops in international student ratios in the US and UK to rises in citations per faculty and academic reputation in Australia, each of the QS indicators gives universities clear analysis and insights into its performance.

Despite these insights, it’s sometimes difficult to wade through the politics and address the real issues that impact your ranking and shape your long-term strategy.

The challenges of actioning rankings

First off, there’s too many rankings to keep straight. Some universities can be part of up to 30 or 40 rankings, and that requires manpower to apply, update, and keep track of each of these rankings.

This often means there’s not enough focus or planning that goes into their rankings, becoming a simple quantity over quality approach.

University politics can also play a part with lower rankings inspiring disappointment and critique, rather than self-reflection and strategic planning.

Any rankings analysis needs to be improvement orientated and viewed through a long-term lens, which can be hard when you’re applying to and receiving 40 different rankings throughout the year.

So, how can you avoid these challenges and leverage rankings analysis for actionable strategy?

Actioning your rankings data

As we know, it’s not enough to just list your rankings and pat yourself on the back, how are you analyzing these results? How is it informing your university’s planning and strategy?

The first step is to create a centralized group of carefully chosen peers within your university that stores this rankings data in a universal dashboard and analyzes the results and insights.

By centralizing data and decision making, you can boost data literacy and ensure that everybody speaks the same research language. This allows data-driven decision making to inform planning, strategic hires, new research programs, and international partners.

As part of this process, the group should set goals for how to improve the university’s performance and take actionable steps to address issues that the rankings may have unearthed.

This shouldn’t be solely focused on improving your rankings, it should be about utilizing the rankings data as another objective pair of eyes, helping you to identify the areas of improvement they illuminate.

The main areas to consider should be institutional resources, student costs, student/faculty ratio, reputation, student retention, graduate employability, and internationalization.

How does your university fare under each of these indicators? The QS World University Rankings breaks down a university’s performance across these indicators and assesses how each has changed in the past year. For more information on rankings you can also download our report, Demystifying the Rankings: A Guide for Universities.

Make the most of this analysis and determine what needs to change to improve your university and its rankings, ensuring that no inherent biases, politics, or perverse incentives derail you from your core focus of improving the university as a whole.

If you’d like an external party to help you kickstart this process, the QS Rankings Tracker helps universities determine an actionable framework for progress, leveraging their rankings insights and the bespoke comparative data behind them.

Discover how your university could implement data-driven, long-term planning and contact us about our QS Rankings Tracker today.


About the Author:

As the B2B Content Marketing Manager, Sarah Linney is responsible for communicating the insights, research, and market analysis that have positioned QS as a thought leader in the higher education sector. After completing a Communications-Journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, Sarah worked in radio news and B2B print publishing before joining the content marketing sector. While working at a content marketing agency, Sarah was transferred to their New York office. She then led content marketing efforts at two tech startups in New York as a Content Manager before deciding to make the move to the UK and QS. 

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