Why Rankings are a Guide Not Gospel

Rankings aren’t perfect, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.

For a company that releases rankings, it’s an interesting point to make, but it’s one that must be made.

Universities are seeing an influx of rankings emerge, with some institutions applying to and tracking up to 30 or 40 rankings each year.

University staff are disillusioned, and often disappointed, with rankings and the importance placed on them by higher education leaders and decision makers. It’s a source of stress and pressure, and often not utilized to its full potential.

So, here’s what we have to say.

Rankings are not the be all and end all

Rankings should be used as a directional guidepost for universities, allowing them to objectively identify areas of improvement and layout a framework for progress.

They shouldn’t be seen as perfect, as no static result set will ever be perfect.

Rankings are only as good as the inputs and methodology each rankings body uses, so it’s important to examine these when reviewing any ranking.

Where do we go from here?

Whilst you view rankings with a pinch of salt, it’s also important to recognize the untapped potential they offer.

Rankings can be used as an early warning system of indicators that might need concentrated attention, highlighting significant shifts that may signify underlying issues.

For instance, a decline in rankings for an indicator related to internationalization (like the international student ratio indicator and the international faculty ratio indicator) may suggest that your university needs to double its efforts to reach out to international students and faculty, and provide a welcoming environment, perhaps mitigating current political shifts and tensions (like we’ve seen in both the US and UK).

When leveraging rankings analysis and data in strategic planning, it should be used as a valuable data set, not the foundation, of your planning.

It’s understandable that it might seem like a Herculean task to analyze all the rankings you’re involved in and what insights they offer.

To address these concerns, we developed the QS Rankings Tracker to break down our bespoke comparative data and provide universities with a clear action plan based on the insights it provides.

To learn more about ranking analysis and how your university could leverage it for strategic planning, please contact us 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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