Tuesday, October 25, 2022

University Rankings Are a Marketing Tool Not a Student Guide

Julie Hare writes "Why university rankings don’t tell you what you need to know" (AFR, Oct 23, 2022). But ranking systems, such as that from  Times Higher Education (THE), were never intended as a guide for students in selecting a university. My favourite ranking system is the non-profit Webometrics, which includes things like openness. There are also some awards which explicitly look at teaching quality, such as the Good Universities Guide Awards, which show that institutions which rate poorly on THE rankings do well when it comes to education.

The ranking schemes from publishers are designed as marketing tools to help promote their publications, and help their advertisers (the universities), promote themselves. Like many industry awards, the university rankings are designed to appeal to the vanity of the established organisations and their executives. The reality is that research excellence has little to do with the quality of the education provided by a university. If anything there is a negative correlation, as researchers are not selected for their teaching ability. Also the quality of the teaching has little to do with the student's learning outcomes, as this mostly depends on the student, and their background, and the support they get externally. Universities in a particular system also tend to level outcomes. Australia has a strict government regulatory framework for universities, so there are no bad ones, and not that much difference between the top ones.

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