The power of media

The media is another significant stakeholder in the rankings game. The power of mass media is increasing as a result of the ICT revolution and social networking making higher education an active area of médiatisation with universities use social networking like Facebook and Twitter as effective marketing tools which further reinforces the power of HERS (Scott, 2013). Nowadays, rankings are big news and the media are a constant source of anxiety for university management. Espeland & Sauder (2015) show interview exerts of how university management are scrutinised by the media when they’ve dropped in rank. Consequently, more resources are distributed to marketing and ‘brand management’ which invariably adds to increased financial pressure on institutions and students (Scott, 2013), an aspect which is already being transformed by the forces of marketisation (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017; Scott, 2013).

An overarching consequence to ranking universities, relating to one of Espeland & Sander’s (2007) mechanisms contributing to institutional reactivity ‘Commensura-tion’, is that the relative generic methodologies employed by HERS results in a drive for uniformity in policies and practices to improve ranking indicators (Wang et al., 2013). This results in a phenomenon known as Isomorphism, whereby the lower ranked universities attempt to imitate the higher ranked ones (Kehm, 2014).

The influence of rankings on policy

Perhaps, the strongest influence of rankings is on national policy, described as the intensification of the development of policy objectives to improve global competitiveness and performance (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017; Hazelkorn & Ryan, 2013; Hazelkorn, 2013; Salmi, 2009; Dill & Soo, 2005). Gornitzka (2013) suggests three ways national traditions are accommodating the changes brought on by rankings:

  • • Institutions channel the transnational policy scripts leading to converging national policies
  • • They may act as buffers that isolate national policies from external influences
  • • They may filter the transnational policy scripts, meaning that the respective changes are nationally specific.

Rankings strongly influence the behaviour of higher education institutions because their presence in rankings heightens their national and international profile and reputation which obliges universities to continuously improve or maintain their rank (Wint & Downing, 2017). The influence of rankings is suggested by the significant increase in excellence initiatives, since the debut publication of the Shanghai Ranking’s ARWU, attesting again to the growing interest of national governments in the development of world-class universities (Salmi, 2009). Policy reform in reaction to rankings has been adopted in over 30 countries across the globe (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017). Many of them openly state their objective to improve the standing of universities within the rankings and/or use the indicators of rankings (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017). The most generously funded initiatives are in France, China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan (The Economist, 2016).

Many of the policy initiatives finance elite institutions to achieve further success whilst ‘second-tier’ institutional budgets are progressively squeezed (Wint & Downing, 2017). A multitude of initiatives are evident. For example, in 2013 while other ministries in France experienced spending cuts, the higher education sector saw significant increases with even more funding allocated to research institutions (Hazelkorn & Ryan, 2013). The French government is planning a merger of 19 existing institutions, in an attempt to create a university to rival Harvard and MIT. The ‘Paris-Saclay’ project has an initial funding of 7.5bn Euros for an endowment, buildings and transport links (Spicer, 2017; Hazelkorn & Ryan, 2013). Similarly, during the last decade, Germany saw major policy reform and increased funding. In 2005, the German Initiative for Excellence was launched in response to their relatively poor showing in various rankings. The second phase of the initiative was rolled out in 2012 with €2.7bn to fund 45 graduate schools, 43 clusters of excellence and 11 future development strategies in 44 universities by 2017. In 2010, the proportion of the annual budget dedicated to higher education was at an all-time high (Hazelkorn & Ryan, 2013). In 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin initiated a method to increase the competitiveness of the leading Russian universities in the global higher education market. The objective of ‘Project 5-100’ is to have five Russian universities listed in the top

100 of the World University' Rankings by 2020. Additionally, the programme attempts to boost international enrolment, particularly' from Asian and African regions (QS Asia News Network, 2018; Spicer, 2017). Similarly, Nigeria’s 2/200/ 2020 vision aims to have at least two institutions among the top 200 universities in the world rankings by' 2020 (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017). Japan aspires to have 10 Japanese universities in the world top 100 by' 2023 (Spicer, 2017). Furthermore, the Finnish government invested large amounts into merging three institutions to create a ‘Nordic MIT’, with the aim of improving its standing in the rankings (Spicer, 2017).

During 2016, China announced a new scheme, named World Class 2.0, with the aim of establishing six of its universities in the leading group of global institutions by' 2020 (Sharma, 2015a, 2015b). The initiative will boost China’s top nine universities as well as create hubs for international collaboration with other universities. Additionally, the Chinese government has set a target for 42 of its universities to be included in leading international rankings by 2050 (Griffin, Sowter, Ince, & O’Leary', 2018). This comes after the previous Chinese government’s eight-year initiative which saw billions of US dollars being poured into elite universities to improve research performance and global ranking (Bothwell, 2016). In East Asia, some countries like Thailand and Malaysia encourage a handful of elite universities to pursue world-class status in the rankings. Some of the alternative approaches adopted by countries include Australia preferring to strengthen their whole higher education system instead of a few elite universities by allocating resources more evenly to different parties in the higher education sector to achieve a system wide revitalisation (Sheil, 2010).

Even though, the majority' of these initiatives are focused on building world-class universities, they are also predominantly focused on growing research capacity'. The global knowledge economy' seems to favour research over teaching but so do the HERS (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017), reinforcing the “publish or perish” phenomenon in academia (Hazelkorn, 2013). Therefore, HERS can also be regarded as a rationale for the emergence of a performance culture in higher education. The relationship between higher education institutions and societal actors is also transforming at a regional level (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017). Hazelkorn and Gibson (2017) point out that the EU identified higher education as an area in need of in-depth restructuring and modernisation if Europe is not to lose out in the global competition in education, research and innovation. It is difficult to establish whether policy reform stems from ranking ambitions if not explicitly referenced, but one can assume that rankings implicitly' shape the policy discourse by playing a ‘powerful hegemonic function’ (Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2017).

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