University rankings are flawed. Here's what we can do about it - professor
A recent survey shows international students are now placing top priority on teaching quality, instead of rankings. Source: Shutterstock

Major rankings fluctuate and are not owned by organisations focused on education but businesses whose aim is profit. These are the two reasons the University of British Columbia’s professor Michelle Stack does not believe rankings to be the best barometer to use selecting a university.

The rankings system do little to represent the quality of educa06tion on offer at universities, the associate professor said, as reported by CBC.

Stack believes universities should not be too caught up in the rankings game, but explains the institutions are in a catch-22 situation: global rankings matter to international students, which the schools need to make up for the state funds that have been on the decline for years.

“When I talk to university leaders, they often say, ‘Look we know the rankings are flawed … but we also know we need to be visible and if we just don’t pay any attention to rankings we could lose international students and we can’t afford that.'”

Stack finds the owners and the methodology behind rankings problematic as well. The way organisations like Times Higher Education, QS and Academic World Rankings, collect data changes too frequently.

“You might have a university that does really well one year and doesn’t do well a few months later when they collect the data again. Can a university really change that much in that short period of time?”

The author of a book on this subject titled Global University Rankings and the Mediatization of Higher Education also points out many of the rankings are owned by businesses, thus their aim is on profits, not education.

Better reflection

For rankings to be meaningful, it should incorporate factors like student experience and how a university deals with matters like assault on campus as well as student debt, says the author.

“It really depends on what the student wants, and what kind of experience they want. That’s more important than a ranking,” she says.

And it seems for international students at least, they have set aside rankings to look and rely on more representative indicators instead in their college search.

A recent survey by student recruitment company Hobsons shows international students are now placing top priority on teaching quality, staff qualification and student satisfaction instead of rankings.

But we should take this discourse on rankings further, Stack says and called for society to reignite our collective imagination on what makes “a good education”.

“I don’t think it should just be up to universities to determine they’re successful. I think the community needs to be a part of it,” Stack said.

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