University Rankings 2012 : What do they mean ?

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This article in the Sydney Morning Herald today,  Sydney uni in world’s top 100, reminded me that the Times Higher Education University Rankings for 2012 were published today. Many of our parents and others in the GJIS community are enamored of these. Each year our Yayasan (school board) asks us to quantify how many students received offers for which Universities and the rankings of each University, they also want to know how many students entered Top Universities.

But which list, should it be the Top 400 world universities ? Should it be the Top 100 world universities by reputation ? Should it be World Reputation Rankings 2012 ? Why  THE ? What about the QS World University Rankings 2011/12 ? Asian Rankings ? They are all different.

I’m sure many other schools face this too.

I understand it, I get it. Parents want boasting rights, schools need marketing blurbs. But what is best for each individual student may not be an Ivy League school or a THE ranked University or College.

 Our rankings of the top universities across the globe employ 13 separate performance indicators designed to capture the full range of university activities, from teaching to research to knowledge transfer. These 13 elements are brought together into five headline categories, which are:

  • Teaching — the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research — volume, income and reputation (worth 30 per cent)
  • Citations — research influence (worth 30 per cent)
  • Industry income — innovation (worth 2.5 per cent)
  • International outlook — staff, students and research (worth 7.5 per cent).

While being an admirable performance indicator, research being worth 30% of the ranking does not make for a better learning institution for our students. Indicators that are important for some students, such as a great sports programme, or an excellent ARTS programme may not be so important for others. Some students will need a very low students to lecturer ratio, others will not. Some students will want to live in a major city, such as London, New York or Singapore, others will be more than happy living in a small town or village.

Generally, Universities in large cities have higher rankings, why ? Because of supply and demand, more students want to live near cities, thus the entrance requirements are more difficult to get in and as this is an indicator, it drives the rankings up. The University may not be any better than a similar one in a place like the English midlands, but due to supply and demand the rankings will be higher.

A University that has a great Masters programme in Business does not necessarily make it a great University for a Bachelor degree in Science.

The point being that one size does not fit all and that these rankings, indeed any ranking system is subjective and only going to be one person’s opinion. In the end, our students have to research the Universities themselves, decide which criteria they value and the students will have to decide how they rank each University, for them.

In the end, these rankings are just a number and a number, while great for bragging rights or marketing may not be the best indication of the best learning environments for each individuals.

paraphrased from several presentations about our University Applications Process to our senior students and parents by Mark Gathercole, our University Applications Consultant


About Pak Liam

Living, teaching and traveling in Asia.
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One Response to University Rankings 2012 : What do they mean ?

  1. Pak Liam says:

    BTW – we have a mini University fair here at school next Monday, 26th of March, Please see me if you are interested to attend but do not yet have the details.

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