Why rankings are good for you

Rankings can bring positive changes when conducted by reliable agencies with the right motivations as seen in the ARWU rankings

In June 2003, when Professor Nian Cai Liu, the current Director of Center for World Class universities and Dean of Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in China published a list of 500 universities calling it the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), he said his motive was “not to advertise Chinese universities, but to motivate them to work harder.”

That was the first time probably that rankings were seen in a positive light, so much so that ARWU is today known as one of the most objective assessment of universities and is seen to have had a positive effect on Chinese universities. Indian academics are however still wary of rankings, those who do accept it, see it as a “necessary evil”. But somewhere we seem to be missing the point that rankings are important, a point that a lot of other countries with development needs have got. If done by reliable agencies with the right motivations, rankings could actually be good for you. Here are five reasons that could convince you:

1. Promotes healthy competition:

AWRU an initiative of Shanghai Jiao Tong was the first in a series of research centers and institutions coming up with some ranking or rating with the intention of actually helping the higher education sector develop a healthy sense of competition that would prevent institutions from stagnating. Initially the fact that it used a parameter like the number of Nobel Prize and Field Prize winners from a university, earned it some flak.

However as early as 2005 The Economist called it “the most widely used annual ranking of world’s research institutes”. Only public data was used in the research for ARWU and perceptions were kept out so that Chinese universities could become aware of their actual position globally, inculcate a sense of healthy competition and thus, take measures to improve their performance.

2. Encourages the pursuit of excellence:

Rankings don’t just encourage institutions to compete with their peers. It actually also helps them benchmark themselves against the best and aspire for reaching that spot someday.

In September 2012, Fohla de Sao Paulo, one of the main newspapers in Brazil, published the first ranking of Brazilian universities in an attempt to evaluate the country’s higher education institutes. Luiz Cláudio Costa, president of the National Institute of Studies and Research (INEP-an agency of the Ministry of Education) at the time said that the Folha University Ranking (RUF) is “an instrument that goes beyond the current system and encourages institutions to pursue excellence, and not just escape inspection”. The aim of RUF is to create an environment that promotes brilliance both in the field of research as well as teaching.

3. Inculcates a sense of responsibility and accountability:

When institutions participate in well reputed rankings, they are seen to be open and transparent. It shows that they are not scared of being evaluated and are ready to take action based on the results. It also builds the culture of collecting data on relevant fields that could be used for various policy decisions at institutional level and consequently on a national level. Rankings play the role of a mirror, reflecting the true position, quality and standard of a college or university provided the parameters used for evaluation are of relevance.

4.Helps management take corrective measures:

Often institutions are unable to make policy decisions since they are too close to their problem to be able to see their issues objectively. By participating in an effective ranking they can actually take measures to improve their quality. For instance if they see that they are doing well on their faculty but are lacking in research, they can start focusing research and allocate more resources there.

Countries like China and Brazil introduced country specific rankings which helped them evolve their higher education system so much so that six of China’s universities and two of Brazil’s universities feature in the top 10 of the BRICS 2014 Ranking.

 5.Provides reliable and neutral information to students:

If the rankings don’t have misaligned incentives they can actually become a great tool for parents and students who are looking for neutral sources for information. It can also help them make crucial decisions while choosing and comparing courses and colleges. In 2005, the Deutsche Rektorkonferencz along with Center for Higher Education Development (CHE), published the first CHE University Ranking covering the entire German speaking area, with the purpose of providing authentic and reliable information to students besides preparing a comprehensive ranking of German universities


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