outline

Chapter 1 comprises an introduction to the major topics covered in the book and outlines its chapters. This chapter introduces some of the major topics covered and identifies the enduring controversies surrounding HERS which range from issues with the indicators employed by the various ranking systems, the weightings allocated to these indicators and data collection methods to more philosophical objections concerning the whole exercise of ranking universities. The importance of the media is highlighted and the impact this has on government and university strategy' and subsequently those responsible for governing and managing higher education institutions. Consideration is also given to the often neglected potentially positive aspect of HERS, namely that they do provide the ‘consumer’ with at least some relatively objective measures of institutional performance and they have clearly encouraged some universities to take a more professional attitude to assessing their own performance. Evidence of the latter includes the rapid and widespread establishment of offices which deal with institutional research and statistics.

Chapter 2 deals with the context for the development, advent and continued success of HERS and contains a review of the generic dynamics of contemporary higher education. Global phenomena affecting higher education like internationalisation, marketisation and the increasing privatisation of state-funded higher education and the establishment of new privately funded universities support the environment in which HERS and their rankings flourish. Furthermore, the chapter provides background for the birth and expansion of HERS. The successful growth of the various global higher education ranking systems is attributed to a context of increasing internationalisation as a response to globalisation, marketisation, rapid expansion of higher education, increased privatisation of higher education and consumerism. In addition, this chapter identifies that the growth in communication technology' has allowed higher education institutions to transcend national boundaries. It argues that the top-ranked universities particularly' have the desire to be recognised as prestigious with some of this driven by' universities who are becoming increasingly' financially' motivated due to the international competition for funding.

Chapter 3 predominantly deals with the history’ of the development of HERS to the present day arguing that, whilst rankings had been around for a long time, the contemporary' world rankings that we are now familiar with appeared on the global scene in 2003 with the publication of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. This was so successful in capturing the attention of the media and wider public that there are now in excess of 20 separate organisations compiling some sort of global ranking of universities. The chapter also identifies the methods employed by the three global

HERS which are currently generally accepted as the most influential. These are the Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings, the Quacqarelli-Symonds (QS) world university rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The chapter demonstrates how a variety of subject specific rankings and/or regionally focused rankings have been added to world university rankings as part of a diversification of the Big Three’s ranking portfolio. HERS now produce specialist university rankings, university rankings in subject areas/subjects, rankings of universities in specific regions and rankings of universities under the age of 50. This chapter also discusses the development of the IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence which set itself the task of working towards promoting and improving ranking practices throughout the world.

Chapter 4 is the first of three chapters which examine in detail the methodologies employed by the Big Three HERS. In addition to a broad overview of their differing methods of assessment, it undertakes a detailed critical analysis of the indicators used by the oldest of the major global rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) initiated in 2003 from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in the People’s Republic of China. This chapter provides an overview of general and fundamental criticisms regarding the nature and validity of the various HERS and their methodologies which include both philosophical and practical objections. The ARWU is critically analysed in relation to its methodology', transparency in terms of results, Nobel Prizes and Field Medals as indicators of quality in education and staff, highly cited researchers as an indicator of staff quality, citation databases as indicators of research output, and the per-capita performance indicator. A recurring problem related to the ability to verify submitted data is introduced and this chapter is the first of a three-chapter critical analysis of what are widely considered the Big Three international higher education rankings.

Chapter 5 undertakes a comprehensive analysis of the QS World University Rankings which is the second oldest of the three most influential higher education ranking systems. This chapter discusses the methodology QS follows to produce its list of top international universities while highlighting recent amendments, perceived shortcomings, and the most notable criticisms. QS positions their WUR as specifically designed to provide information to prospective local and international students, but interest from university senior managers and governments (arguably the core of their client base) remains a potent influence. The chapter discusses the significant expansion of its rankings portfolio to include a variety of new rankings with amended methodologies for new audiences. Criticisms of the QS WUR have touched on various aspects of methodology with the biggest concern usually related to the large weighting attributed to, and measurement of, academic reputation as well as a reliance on university supplied data without any real means to verify the information supplied.

Chapter 6 follows a similar pattern to Chapters 4 and 5 undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the third oldest ranking, the THE WUR. Times Higher Education (THE) has been a publisher of university news and world university rankings for many years. However, the last decade has seen several amendments to the way THE WUR goes about its business. Following the dissolution of the partnership with QS front 2009 THE offered their own version of a world university ranking making a further decisive move in 2014 by dispensing with the services of Thomson Reuters who had been responsible for the collection of their institutional data and the administration of their academic reputation surveys. THE now conducts these activities in-house. Additionally, in common with QS, they now draw research publication data from Elsevier’s ‘Scopus’ Database. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE WUR) is based on 13 performance indicators clustered into five ‘academic pillars’: ‘Teaching’, ‘Research’, ‘Citations’, ‘Industry Income’ and ‘International Outlook’. Like QS, THE has also introduced several new rankings, spotlighting various characteristics of participating universities like age, focus and region. The Big Three HERS (QS, THE and ARWU) remain highly criticised, not only for the way they rank but for ranking universities in first place. Contemporaty research into the former highlights numerous issues and complexities related to citation databases and year-to-year fluctuations. Some commenters call for better indicators to measure teaching and employability while others call for improved data validity and accuracy. This chapter argues that ultimately HERS can only assess the tangible, quantifiable aspects of universities inevitably leading to an overreliance on research output indicators to the expense of the intangible value that universities bring.

Chapter 7 takes an in-depth look at the global higher education context and details numerous ways universities have changed their policies and functioning to optimise performance in the various ranking metrics. This chapter demonstrates that rankings impact decision-making, academic behaviour, resource allocation, internationally ranked journals, promotional criteria and organisational structure. Management, administrators and academics are professionally and emotionally linked to performance in the ranking systems and perceived success or failure can have significant consequences for individuals and their institutions. The chapter argues that positioning of knowledge and its dissemination, as the foundation of economic, social and political power has driven economies from being resource-based to being knowledge-based. Consequently, the idea of effectively competing in the global knowledge economy to attract knowledge and talent has governments across the world obsessed with creating world-class universities. The notion of a world-class university is considered together with its many forms and definitions. The chapter argues that the term “world-class” has come to mean highly ranked in one of the prestigious university rankings systems which has created fertile soil for the HERS to continue to flourish.

Chapter 8 continues the exploration of the international context discussed in Chapter 7 by looking at rankings, the global knowledge economy and the impact of political change and geography on the development of higher education. The forces of the global knowledge economy are described in terms of a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ effect where the ‘push’ encapsulates the movement of the economy, higher education funding and academic mobility, and the ‘pull’ relates to contemporaty political influences on the global knowledge economy. The changes emanating from the new governance structures in the US and the UK are discussed in more detail to demonstrate that the impact of new administrations in both of these countries will continue to influence global higher education.

Chapter 9 pulls together and summarises the major themes which emerge from Chapters 1 to 8 returning to the original quotation of ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ and analysing the HERS within a framework of what is good, what is bad and what is ugly.

 
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