Today I received the monthly e-newsletter sent out by QS called ‘Higher Education World’. It was all about the QS World University Rankings and called for academics and employers to participate in the survey which, in part, determines the rankings.
Of course, this got me thinking about world university rankings, and how they are perceived. For those universities that do well, world rankings are lauded, splashed across webpages and press releases, used to attract students and academics alike. For top universities, world rankings are important for international student recruitment; high-ranking universities will use their place to attract top students around the world, proudly displaying their ranking on promotional leaflets which are handed out at recruitment fairs.
But what about those universities that don’t do well in rankings, those that are ranked in the bottom third? How do those universities use world rankings to recruit international students? In short, they don’t. I work for one such ‘bottom third’ university, and I’ve had to contend with this issue for many years.
It’s a tricky one to address, particularly in Asia where university ranking is seen as a significant indicator of how good a university is. It often doesn’t matter that the student might be better suited to my university, rather than Durham or Warwick. We aren’t in the Top 20 in the UK so therefore we aren’t worth considering. At student recruitment fairs in Thailand, Vietnam or China, answering the inevitable question “What rank is your university?” requires a delicate touch: I must answer the question, yet not reveal our ranking; I must promote the wonderful opportunities my institution provides, yet not hide its drawbacks; I must be honest, yet not tell the truth. I should be a politician.
The reality is most students I talk to are not contenders for Harvard or Yale, Oxford or Cambridge, or any other Top 100 world university. In fact, many of them would probably be happy and successful (and also get a good education) at my university, but we are overlooked because we are bottom third. And we are bottom third because we aren’t a research institution with lots of funding and we don’t have a huge endowment and most of our students are from the local region. Despite all that, we provide a great academic and social experience for our international students. The way I see it, world university rankings and national league tables are preventing other international students from having that experience.
Many colleges and universities around the world are in the same boat as my institution. If you work for one of them, let me know what you do to tackle the “What rank is your university?” question.