Since international university rankings arrived on the scene just over a decade ago, the sector has been characterised by rapid expansion and development. Every year sees the global rankings extended to cover more institutions, alongside the launch of new regional rankings, subject-specific rankings, rankings of young universities, even rankings of student cities…
So: what next? What are the next big challenges for university rankings providers – and what do prospective students really want to see developed?
Earlier this year, I collaborated with Dasha Karzunina of the QS Intelligence Unit (the team behind the QS World University Rankings®), on a series of focus groups with current and prospective students, accompanied by a survey on rankings preferences. Based on what students told us about how they use rankings and the types of comparison they really want, here’s where I see five of the biggest challenges for rankings providers in the next decade:
1. Finding ways to assess teaching quality
Teaching quality is widely recognised as the “holy grail” of university rankings – and it’s definitely a highly prized treasure in prospective students’ eyes. While recognising the difficulties involved in reliably assessing teaching quality, students nonetheless expect rankings providers to find increasingly sophisticated approaches to this problem.
2. Offering more data on employment outcomes
Alongside teaching quality, employability is equally valued by prospective students – and university rankings are commonly perceived as a way of assessing university reputation in the graduate jobs market. Prospective students are hungry for more data relating to employment prospects: overall employment rates but also more specific information, such as the types of company/role, relevancy between degree and job, and employment rates for internationals.
3. Providing more comparisons at subject/course level
Our survey and focus groups revealed widespread demand for subject-specific rankings, and many students also called for comparisons of specific programs – such as a ranking dedicated to Masters in Finance degrees, for instance. This is again no mean feat, presenting rankings organisations with the challenge of collating and updating data at a more granular level, and on a large enough scale to deliver meaningful results.
4. Presenting more supplementary information
Students are also keen to see university rankings presented alongside a wide range of supplementary information, so that they can assess universities on multiple factors from a single platform. They’d like to be able to transition easily from ranking tables to cost comparisons or scholarship databases; to filter results based on admissions criteria; to view an interactive map of the campus and surround area; or to read a recent set of student reviews.
5. Creating more personalised interfaces
All of this adds up to a demand for more flexible and customisable interfaces, aggregating multiple types of information into a single platform. Already, students value university rankings as a useful time-saving tool, allowing them to quickly shortlist and reputation-check. But there’s much more scope for rankings to evolve towards becoming a one-stop shop for comparing universities and accessing all the information needed when making a decision.
This list might seem a pretty tall order. But if you consider the pace of evolution and expansion during the first decade of international university rankings’ existence, who knows what’s to come in the next?
Want to find out more? The full report How Do Students Use Rankings? is available to read online.