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### The Flaws of University Rankings: A Detriment to Educational Progress

We evaluate a wide array of subjects, from the top eateries in our vicinity to the most desirable travel destinations and must-watch films. To ascertain the credibility of these rankings, understanding the entities responsible for the rankings and their criteria is essential.

These same inquiries hold true when examining the global ranking of universities.

The practice of ranking universities commenced several years ago and has since become ubiquitous. Institutions, particularly those with high rankings, accord significant importance to these rankings. Some institutions dedicate resources to compiling the requisite data for ranking entities. University benefactors take rankings seriously, journalists amplify their significance, and certain parents rely on them to make decisions about their children’s educational pursuits.

Numerous entities engage in ranking universities, with some ranking systems enjoying more prominence than others. Among the most widely recognized and influential are , , and .

A group of experts recently convened to conduct a critical assessment of ranking systems, with the participation of the . The findings highlighted fundamental issues with rankings, emphasizing the impracticality of evaluating all institutions uniformly to derive meaningful insights. Moreover, concerns were raised regarding the lack of transparency and potential methodological flaws in existing ranking methodologies.

The experts underscored the excessive emphasis placed on rankings, which perpetuate global, regional, and national disparities. Furthermore, the undue focus on rankings hinders comprehensive evaluations of education systems.

The Ranking Process and Entities Involved

Ranking activities are typically carried out by private, for-profit organizations. These entities engage in various revenue-generating activities, including data collection from universities for commercial purposes, advertising sales, consultancy services, and hosting fee-based conferences.

Each ranking entity adopts a distinct approach, culminating in the generation of an index or score based on collected data. However, the methodologies employed by these entities lack transparency, raising questions about the validity and objectivity of the rankings.

For instance, utilizes surveys to solicit feedback from academics, potentially leading to biased outcomes influenced by response rates and respondent characteristics. While some ranking criteria may appear more objective, such as analyzing universities’ research output, inherent biases and selective focus on specific research disciplines undermine the credibility of these measures.

Significance of Rankings

Given the multifaceted roles universities play in society and the substantial public investments in higher education, it is crucial for stakeholders to scrutinize how these funds are utilized.

Universities that excel in producing skilled graduates who contribute to societal needs or conduct research that informs effective public policies are deemed valuable institutions, irrespective of their ranking positions. Single-dimensional ranking systems fail to capture the diverse contributions universities make to society, thereby necessitating a broader evaluation framework.

Excessive reliance on rankings can distort priorities within the higher education sector, diverting attention from critical issues such as institutional diversity, research quality, and workforce development.


It is imperative to recognize that rankings are subjective and influenced by profit motives, rather than serving the public interest or universities’ social mandates. Transparency in ranking methodologies is essential to assess the utility and validity of rankings and to mitigate inherent conflicts of interest.

By fostering a nuanced understanding of rankings and their limitations, stakeholders can resist the undue influence of ranking entities and prioritize substantive educational goals over superficial metrics. Embracing a more inclusive and decolonized perspective in evaluating academic institutions can challenge existing biases and promote a more equitable assessment framework.

The evolution and continued existence of ranking systems are not inevitable, and a critical reevaluation of their role and impact is warranted.The Conversation

, Professor, School of Public Health, University of Gothenburg, Sweden,

This content is republished from under a Creative Commons license.