Thing 9: Rankings

There are several university ranking exercises that are administered by different organisations, using combinations of indicators to compare research institutions. Rankings are a key focus for many institutions, as evidenced by their inclusion in strategic plans.  

Thing 9 will introduce you to different types of university rankings and their methodologies, why they are still considered important, as well as the recent push to ensure that rankings are used responsibly.


Getting Started

There are many different rankings to choose from. Some of the most popular ones, as well as their data source, and methodologies, are listed in the table below. 

RankingData sourceMethodology
Academic Ranking of World Universities 
(ARWU) 
aka Shanghai Ranking
Clarivate– Quality of Education 
– Quality of Faculty  
– Research Output 
– Per Capita Performance 

For more information visit the ARWU methodology page.  
World University Rankings (THE) Scopus– Teaching (the learning environment) 
– Research (volume, income and reputation) 
– Citations (research influence) 
– International outlook (staff, students and research) 
– Industry income (knowledge transfer) 

For more information visit the THE methodology page. 
QS World University Rankings  Scopus– Academic peer review 
– Faculty/Student ratio 
– Citations per faculty 
– Employer reputation 
– International student ratio 
– International staff ratio 

For more information visit the QS World University Rankings methodology page. 
CWTS Leiden Ranking ClarivatePublications 
Size-dependent vs. Size independent indicators 
Scientific impact indicators 
Collaboration indicators 
Open access indicators 
Gender indicators 
For more information visit the CWTS Leiden Ranking page. 

Exercise: Look for your institution in one or more of the rankings. What does this tell you about your institution? 


Learn More

University rankings were originally created to help students choose where to study and academics choose where to work.  

Read about the “Merits and demerits of rankings” (starting page 12) in UNESCO’s “Rankings and accountability in higher education: uses and misuses“.  

Exercise: List some of the merits of university ranking systems, according to UNESCO. Can you think of any other examples?  

Read “Influencing the changing world of research evaluation” by Elizabeth Gadd. In this article, Gadd provides an overview of the current research evaluation landscape.  

Consider: Gadd writes that “the way research is evaluated has a significant effect on the whole of the scholarly endeavour. This is called Campbell’s Law: often summarized as ‘the way you measure someone affects the way they behave’.”  How do you believe rankings influence the academic landscape? 


Challenge Me

When looking at rankings it is important to understand their use case, including any weaknesses or biases in the data they use. It is encouraged to critically analyse the story these rankings present about the institutions they are ranking. As such, there has been a global movement established to encourage the responsible use of these metrics. 

The Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University created a “Responsible use” guide that is intended to guide the responsible use of university rankings. These ten principles can be applied to any university ranking and are not restricted to the Leiden Ranking.  

Another guide is the “Berlin principles on ranking of higher education institutions”. This guide, written by the International Ranking Expert Group (IREG), outlines a set of principles of quality and good practice in higher education institutions rankings.  

Finally, read “Rating the rankings criteria”, a guide written by the INORMS Research Evaluation Working Group that was established in 2018 to consider, over a two-year time-frame, how best to ensure that research evaluation is meaningful, responsible and effective.  

Exercise: Choose one of the rankings from the “Getting Started” section and investigate to what extent it applies to the responsible rankings guides above.