Ranking World Universities: A Decade of Refinement, and the Road Ahead

Ranking World Universities: A Decade of Refinement, and the Road Ahead

Ben Sowter (QS Intelligence Unit, UK), Shadi Hijazi (QS Intelligence Unit, UK) and David Reggio (QS Intelligence Unit, UK)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0819-9.ch001


One of the recurrent criticisms levelled against rankings is that they are simplistic and reductionist. Yet, from the user perspective, this ‘simplicity' yields important advantages when rankings are contributing to decision-making. To encompass these two opposing views, QS has sought to maintain a critical and self-reflective stance, continuously concerned with methodological improvement to its portfolio of rankings and ratings, while striving to provide an accurate and practical representation of the complexity of higher education institutions worldwide. Over the last decade, such analysis, both critical and salutary, has resulted in key refinements in the QS Rankings methodology, including the introduction of new regional and subject-driven rankings. Our chapter sets out to explain how various aspects of institutional performance are conceptualised and measured in a practical and operational framework for rankings purposes, and how these measurements have evolved. Further issues, currently under investigation for the improvement of the QS Rankings and their indicators, are also addressed.
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Background To Rankings

How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress. (Niels Bohr, Physicist, 1885-1962)

Bohr’s principles of correspondence and complementarity hallmarked the scientific adventure into the unity of human knowledge, a place where the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience was not without paradox. The chief paradox which faces rankings is that a university is a fundamentally complex construct, with a unique blend of assets and strengths which emerge through socio-historical, socio-economic and geo-political influences. These can all be both complementary and contradictory, yet ultimately they are necessary to ascertain that very thing which we call ‘universities’. Policies and the peoples they address, shape nations and the world, and these also define the identities of institutions. The biography of an institution, and its destiny, thus unfolds through a series of factors which, to be truly understood, require comparison and measurement: the hallmarks of scientific method and historical enquiry.

The interrogation of what, precisely, represents quality for a university has escalated dramatically over the past fifteen years, and relevant data has emerged through a complexity of factors. This has informed a sophisticated and rich discussion. At the same time, it has spawned a great number of new initiatives within institutions or departments, at a group or national level, and in both a regional and a global context.

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