News & Events / Study: Institute for Higher Education Policy Calls for Global Accountability of Ranking Systems to Ensure Quality and Understanding Across Borders

Study: Institute for Higher Education Policy Calls for Global Accountability of Ranking Systems to Ensure Quality and Understanding Across Borders

Published May 15, 2014
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Washington, D.C., April 18, 2007—Marking the first anniversary since the release of the groundbreaking Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) today released a new monograph that highlights the ongoing global phenomenon of college and university ranking systems and the urgent need for constructive dialogue about ranking. College and University Ranking Systems: Global Perspectives and American Challenges acknowledges that while college and university rankings are growing in their frequency and popularity, greater understanding about how these ranking systems function is needed to ensure accountability and greater transparency.

As described in the monograph, while the first ranking system was established nearly 25 years ago by U.S. News & World Report, many ranking systems have subsequently been developed in other nations, each with distinct methodologies and very different goals. Many criticisms have been leveled at such ranking systems, especially in the United States, but the monograph notes that these rankings have proved to be highly popular with consumers. In many cases, the rankings can and, in fact, have changed in response to pressure, according to the monograph contributors. At the same time, given the potential for rankings to have negative impacts on students and institutions, it has become increasingly imperative to further monitor and improve these systems.

The monograph includes contributions from leading thinkers in the field of college and university ranking, including Alvin P. Sanoff, former managing editor at U.S. News and World Report responsible for the annual rankings issue; Marguerite Clarke, an internationally recognized expert and critic of rankings based in Australia; and Alex Usher and Massimo Savino, director and policy analyst, respectively, at the Educational Policy Institute in Canada and architects of a new ranking of Canadian universities. The report also includes analysis by IHEP of the implications of the current global debate about rankings on the broader dialogue about accountability in higher education.

“Magazine and newspaper ranking systems have clearly emerged as the third dimension of the higher education accountability marketplace, complementing what takes place through private accreditation and government regulation,” said IHEP President Jamie P. Merisotis. “With more than 20 different nations now engaged in some form of rankings that are regularly published, it is clear that they are popular and here to stay. Ongoing dialogue between ranking organizations and higher education institutions must take place to ensure that these systems contribute in a constructive way to perceptions of quality in higher education worldwide.”

IHEP notes that the U.S. debate about rankings could be significantly informed by the international experiences with ranking, building on the lessons learned from the diverse systems that exist in other nations. Given the durability of ranking systems over more than two decades in the U.S., there is an urgent need for colleges and universities and the ranking organizations to commit to a new dialogue about improvement in ranking design and methodology.

Key recommendations from the College and University Ranking Systems: Global Perspectives and American Challenges monograph include:

  • Conduct, commission, and encourage research that assesses ranking systems and contributes to the development of new knowledge about how rankings impact quality improvement in higher education.
  • Convene ranking organizations and analysts to review the development of new ranking systems, and consider modification or amendment with regard to the scope and methodologies of ranking that is consistent with the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions.
  • Facilitate and mediate dialogue among higher education institutions, ranking organizations, and analysts.
  • Assess the coherence of various rankings with the standards of good practice outlined in the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions.

Since 2002, IHEP has been involved in the global dialogue about higher education rankings to further its mission of fostering access and success in higher education around the world. Most recently, in May 2006, the organization collaborated with the UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education and hosted a meeting in Berlin resulting in the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions to focus on good practice to improve and evaluate ranking systems over time. The 16 principles have been discussed at leading higher education meetings around the world in the last year and have figured prominently in the dialogue about accountability in higher education in several countries.

College and University Ranking Systems: Global Perspectives and American Challenges was supported by Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indianapolis-based, private foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. To download a free copy of this report or the Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, visit the organization’s Web site at www.dev-ihep-new.pantheonsite.io or send a request via e-mail to publications@ihep.org.