Global university rankings have become a significant feature of international higher education and are commonly interpreted as an indicator of success in the global economy. They came to prominence in 2003 with the publication of the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Rankings of World Universities (ARWU). Today, there are ten global rankings of varying degrees of popularity, reliability, and trustworthiness. National rankings have existed since the early 19th century, primarily in the United States, but they now exist in many countries around the world. It is the ability of global rankings to provide a simple, easily understood method by which to compare higher education internationally that has made them a phenomenon. Thus, rankings are viewed as a measure of “world-class excellence.” The performance and quality of higher education is a vital sign of a country’s capacity to participate successfully in the global economy. This follows from studies that continue to highlight strong correlations between investment in education and research and economic growth. While this has highlighted the importance of higher education in creating competitive advantage, it has also brought increased public scrutiny to how higher education is governed and managed, and about value-for-money. This is now the subject of policy debate and public discourse at both the national and the supranational levels. Rankings are also a response to growing pressure from students and parents for more consumer information. As students look for the “best” universities and colleges, rankings appear to provide information about educational quality and, correspondingly, about career prospects. Because rankings are seen as independent of the higher education sector and individual institutions, they are perceived as a more reliable source of information for employers, policymakers, and the public. But rankings are also controversial. Studies raise many questions about their methodology and choice of indicators, which are widely seen as promoting a narrow definition of excellence, and thus as favoring a small subset of the world’s 18,000 higher education institutions. Nonetheless, international research shows that the influence of global rankings on the choices and decisions taken by governments, higher education institutions, students, employers, and others continues to grow. Today’s debates have moved beyond discussing the advantages and disadvantages of global rankings to examining their impact and influence, alternative accountability and transparency instruments, and what global rankings are telling us about the changing shape or the geopolitics of higher education internationally. For further information on a related topic, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Education article “Value of Higher Education for Students and Other Stakeholders.”
Rankings have become a topic of serious academic study. Topics usually focus on the increasing importance of rankings, methods of assessment and criticism thereof, implications for higher education, and their impact on different sets of users, such as students, higher education institutions, and governments. Rankings are also used as a lens through which to examine globalization as a driver of change in higher education. Over the years, the number of books, peer- and nonpeer-reviewed articles, master’s and doctoral theses, news commentaries, online articles and websites, and conferences, workshops, and seminars has spiraled. There are over 2 million entries on Google Scholar and more than 250 million hits on Google for “university ranking.” The most comprehensive account of rankings is found in Hazelkorn 2015, which provides a survey of the origins of rankings and their methodologies as well as an extensive analysis of the impact and influence of rankings, based upon original research. Other important edited texts are Kehm and Stensaker 2009 and Shin, et al. 2011, both of which provide analysis of the origins, methodology, theoretical basis, and impact of rankings, although the authors all share a general critical perspective. In contrast, Marope, et al. 2013, published following an international UNESCO conference in 2011, looks at the positive and perverse role and effects of rankings. It includes analysis and observations not only from academics but also from policymakers. There are also some important special series or journal issues. New Directions for Institutional Research published a special edition titled Evaluating and Responding to College Guidebooks and Rankings (Walleri and Moss 1995), focusing on developments in the United States prior to the emergence of global rankings. Merisotis 2002, a special issue of Higher Education in Europe, was published on the cusp on the proliferation of global rankings, while Küpper and Hartwig 2013, a special issue of Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung, and Desjardins, et al. 2014, a special issue of the European Journal of Education, both reflect on a decade of global rankings. Erkkilä 2013 takes a broader European perspective, while Climent, et al. 2013 focuses on Spain. Hazelkorn 2017 and Hazelkorn 2018 place discussion of rankings within the broader context of geopolitical changes, with implications for higher education, global science, and the nation-state.
Climent, Vincent, Francesc Michavila, and María Ripollás, eds. 2013. Los rankings universitarios, mitos y realidades. Madrid: Editorial Technos.
Fourteen chapters discussing and comparing international rankings, with particular reference to Spanish universities. In Spanish with the exception of the chapter by Hazelkorn.
Desjardins, Richard, Jean Gordon, and Christina Keyes, eds. 2014. Special issue: Global university rankings: A critical assessment. European Journal of Education 49.1: 1–158.
Special issue of journal assessing rankings, with articles on methodology and developments, country comparisons, unintended side effects, youth education, and other topics.
Erkkilä, Tero, ed. 2013. Global university rankings: Challenges for European higher education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Edited collection of chapters looking at the significance of global university rankings and their effects, with emphasis on Europe. Part 2 looks at issues of institutional and system convergence and stratification. Part 3 considers methodological issues, with a special focus on the humanities and social science research.
Hazelkorn, Ellen. 2015. Rankings and the reshaping of higher education: The battle for world class excellence. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Monograph with comprehensive analysis of rankings, based upon original research, and on surveys and focus groups with higher education leaders, students, and stakeholders around the world. Brings together and analyzes a large body of international research and experience. Second edition of book brings history of rankings up to date.
Hazelkorn, Ellen. 2018. Reshaping the world order of higher education: The role and impact of rankings on national and global systems. Policy Reviews in Higher Education 2.1: 4–31.
This paper looks at the transformation of rankings from a statistical-technical phenomenon influencing institutional decision making to being a policy instrument driving competition at institutional, national, and global levels. It also examines how rankings have impacted on, and altered the relationship between, higher education and the state, looking at the accountability agenda and the geopolitics of higher education, and it considers implications and challenges in the wake of current social and political developments.
Hazelkorn, Ellen, ed. 2017. Global rankings and the geopolitics of higher education: Understanding the influence and impact of rankings on higher education, policy and society. London: Routledge.
This edited collection places rankings within a broader context and provides a deeper understanding of how rankings have successfully linked the talent-catching and knowledge-producing capabilities of higher education institutions with global competitiveness. It fills our gap in understanding rankings as a geopolitical phenomenon with contributions from thirty-nine international scholars and policymakers.
Kehm, Barbara M., and Bjørn Stensaker, eds. 2009. University rankings, diversity, and the new landscape of higher education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
One of the first edited collections to look at the rise and significance of rankings from an international perspective. Provides a critical academic reflection, with a good overview of methodological issues by Usher and Medow and others looking at the implications, especially by Deem and colleagues and Teichler.
Küpper, Hans-Ulrich, and Lydia Hartwig, eds. 2013. Special issue: Rankings und Leistungsvergleiche. Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung 2.
Special issue of journal on the theme of rankings and benchmarking, with articles reflecting on a decade of rankings, international rankings, and two European initiatives: U-Map and U-Multirank. Some articles in German and some in English.
Marope, Mmantsetsa, Peter J. Wells, and Ellen Hazelkorn, eds. 2013. Rankings and accountability in higher education: Uses and misuses. Paris: UNESCO.
Based on contributions to a UNESCO global conference, the book brings together ranking organizations, critics, and policymakers to discuss the role and influence of rankings, looking at both the positive and the perverse aspects. Contains chapters by the key rankers about their approach to the issues. Draws together contributors from around the world, including from Africa and Asia.
Merisotis, Jamie P., ed. 2002. Special issue: On the ranking of higher education institutions. Higher Education in Europe 27.4.
One of the first collections of essays looking at university rankings, published as special journal issue. Based on contributions to a conference held in 2002 as part of a project on indicators for monitoring higher education. Brings together researchers from around the world involved in rankings (e.g., Poland, United Kingdom, and Germany) and commentators.
Shin, Jung Cheol, Robert K. Toutkoushian, and Ulrich Teichler, eds. 2011. University rankings: Theoretical basis, methodology and impacts on global higher education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
Edited collection of thirteen chapters. Looks at the policy and social context driving the origin and growth of rankings, methodological issues, and the impact of rankings on higher education institutions and faculty in a competitive environment. Especially useful are chapters by Shin and Harmon, both of whom attempt to set rankings into the context of other quality assessment processes and practices, and Locke, who looks at the influence of rankings on institutional behavior.
Walleri, R. Dan, and Marsha K. Moss, eds. 1995. Evaluating and responding to college guidebooks and rankings. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Collection of essays looking at rankings and other “accountability instruments” in the United States, with the aim of providing consumer-type information to students and parents.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Academic Achievement
- Academic Audit for Universities
- Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States
- Action Research in Education
- Adjuncts in Higher Education in the United States
- Administrator Preparation
- Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Courses
- African American Racial Identity and Learning
- Alternative Certification Programs for Educators
- Alternative Schools
- American Indian Education
- Art Education
- Assessing School Leader Effectiveness
- Assessment, Behavioral
- Assessment, Educational
- Assessment in Early Childhood Education
- Athletics, College
- Augmented Reality in Education
- Beginning-Teacher Induction
- Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
- Blended Learning
- Case Study in Education Research
- Changing Professional and Academic Identities
- Character Education
- Children’s and Young Adult Literature
- Children's Beliefs about Intelligence
- Children's Rights in Early Childhood Education
- Civic and Social Engagement of Higher Education
- Classroom Management
- College Admissions in the United States
- Community Relations
- Comparative Education
- Computer-Based Testing
- Counseling in Schools
- Critical Race Theory
- Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education
- Culturally Responsive Leadership
- Culturally Responsive Pedagogies
- Culturally Responsive Teacher Education in the United Stat...
- Curriculum Design
- Data Collection in Educational Research
- Data-driven Decision Making in the United States
- Deaf Education
- Desegregation and Integration
- Development, Moral
- Digital Age Teacher, The
- Distance Learning
- Distributed Leadership
- Doctoral Education and Training
- Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark
- Early Childhood Education and Development in Mexico
- Early Childhood Education in Australia
- Early Childhood Education in China
- Early Childhood Education in Europe
- Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Early Childhood Education in Sweden
- Early Childhood Education Pedagogy
- Early Childhood Education Policy
- Early Childhood Education, The Arts in
- Early Childhood Mathematics
- Early Childhood Teacher Education
- Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Early Years Professionalism and Professionalization Polici...
- Economics of Education
- Education For Children with Autism
- Education Leadership, Empirical Perspectives in
- Education Reform and School Change
- Educational Statistics for Longitudinal Research
- Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
- Epistemic Beliefs
- Equity, Ethnicity, Diversity, and Excellence in Education
- Ethics and Education
- Ethics of Teaching
- Ethnic Studies
- Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention
- Family and Community Partnerships in Education
- Family Day Care
- Federal Government Programs and Issues
- Finance, Education
- Financial Aid
- Formative Assessment
- Gender and Achievement
- Gifted Education
- Global Mindedness and Global Citizenship Education
- Global University Rankings
- Governance, Education
- Grounded Theory
- Growth of Effective Mental Health Services in Schools in t...
- Higher Education and Globalization
- Higher Education and the Developing World
- Higher Education Governance
- Higher Education in China
- Higher Education in the United States, Historical Evolutio...
- Higher Education, International Issues in
- Higher Education Management
- Higher Education Policy
- Higher Education Research
- Higher Education Student Assessment
- High-stakes Testing
- History of Education in the United States
- Inclusive Education
- Indigenous Education in a Global Context
- Inservice Teacher Education
- Integrating Art across the Curriculum
- Intensive Interventions for Children and Adolescents with ...
- Intersectionality and Education
- Knowledge Development in Early Childhood
- Leadership Development, Coaching and Feedback for
- Leadership Training
- Learning Difficulties
- Learning, Lifelong
- Learning, Multimedia
- Learning Strategies
- Legal Matters and Education Law
- LGBT Youth in Schools
- Linguistic Diversity
- Linguistically Inclusive Pedagogy
- Literacy Development and Language Acquisition
- Literacy, Multiple Documents
- Literature Reviews
- Mathematics Instruction and Interventions for Students wit...
- Mathematics Teacher Education
- Measurement in Education in the United States
- Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis in Education
- Methodologies for Conducting Education Research
- Mindfulness, Learning, and Education
- Mixed Methods Research
- Multivariate Research Methodology
- Museums, Education, and Curriculum
- Music Education
- Narrative Research in Education
- Numeracy Education
- Online Education
- Pedagogy of Teacher Education, A
- Performance Objectives and Measurement
- Performance-based Research Assessment in Higher Education
- Performance-based Research Funding
- Phenomenology in Educational Research
- Philosophy of Education
- Physical Education
- Politics of Education
- Portable Technology for Special Education
- Pre-Service Teacher Education
- Problem Solving
- Professional Development
- Professional Learning Communities
- Program Evaluation
- Programs and Services for Students with Emotional or Behav...
- Psychology Learning and Teaching
- Psychometric Issues in the Assessment of English Language ...
- Qualitative Data Analysis Techniques
- Qualitative Research Design
- Quantitative Research Designs in Educational Research
- Race and Affirmative Action in Higher Education
- Reading Education
- Refugee and New Immigrant Learners
- Religion in Elementary and Secondary Education in the Unit...
- Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Cont...
- Response to Intervention
- Restorative Practices
- School Accreditation
- School Choice
- School Culture
- School Improvement through Inclusive Education
- School Reform
- Schools, Private and Independent
- School-Wide Positive Behavior Support
- Science Education
- Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues
- Self-Regulated Learning
- Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices
- Severe Disabilities
- Single Salary Schedule
- Single-sex Education
- Single-Subject Research Design
- Social Context of Education
- Social Justice
- Social Network Analysis
- Social Pedagogy
- Social Science and Education Research
- Social Studies Education
- Sociology of Education
- Standards-Based Education
- Statistical Assumptions
- Student Access, Equity, and Diversity in Higher Education
- Student Assignment Policy
- Student Engagement in Tertiary Education
- Student Participation
- Student Voice in Teacher Development
- Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Effectiveness
- Teacher Preparation
- Teacher Training and Development
- Teacher Unions and Associations
- Teaching Critical Thinking
- Technologies, Teaching, and Learning in Higher Education
- Technology Education in Early Childhood
- Technology, Educational
- Technology-based Assessment
- The Bologna Process
- The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education
- Theories of Educational Leadership
- Tracking and Detracking
- Transitions in Early Childhood Education
- University Faculty Roles and Responsibilities in the Unite...
- Using Ethnography in Educational Research
- Value of Higher Education for Students and Other Stakehold...
- Vocational and Technical Education
- Wellness and Well-Being in Education
- Women's and Gender Studies