Background information for rankings

The various rankings are developed via different methodologies and for different target audiences. Complex contexts are reduced to a small amount of numbers and indicators in order to come up with a ranking list.

Methodological approach

Rankings can be categorised in the following ways:

  • national / international
  • subject ranking / ranking the whole university
  • multidimensional ranking / aggregate value based on indicators
  • ranking list (league tables) / ranking groups

Rankings are controversial

... and are associated with a number of methodological difficulties:

  • Different publication cultures in the different scientific disciplines are not taken into consideration.
  • A strong focus on journal publications and citation numbers in the Web of Science favours universities with strong natural science programmes in the English speaking world.
  • Rankings do not account for the distinctiveness of national systems of higher education.
  • The weighting of the numbers based on university size is not always carried out, which leads to additional distortions.
  • The rankings combine past performance with current evaluations (i.e. Nobel prize winners as alumni).
  • A lack of transparency regarding reputation surveys: Who is asked? Response rate?
  • Manipulation issues concerning the data provided by the ranked universities

Further readings

Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions

Rauhvargers, A. (2013) Global University Rankings and Their Impact. Report II. (EUA Report on Rankings 2013). Brussels: European University Association

Bergseth, B., Petocz, P. & Abrandt Dahlgren, M. (2014) Ranking quality in higher education: guiding or misleading? Quality in Higher Education 20(3), 330-347