University rankings are very popular and highly controversial at the same time. Issued by various institutions worldwide, rankings are not only of prime importance for prospective students, governments and the private sector but also for universities themeselves. This is shown by the fact that educational institutions increasingly aim for a high standing in rankings, which is also stated in a multitude of institutional mission statements.
Yet, all that glitters is not gold. Critics of university rankings particularly call attention to the subsequent two points: (1) By means of which criteria should the performance of universities be evaluated? (2) How should universities, whose main research is in totally different areas, be compared? In 2010, the League of European Research Universities published a paper with the title “University Rankings: Diversity, Excellence and the European Initiative”, which can be accessed at www.leru.org/index.php/public/publications/year/2010/. The author of the paper, Professor Geoffrey Boulton (Edinburgh University), writes on two programs funded by the European Commission to tackle the problems mentioned above.
While the “U-Map project” tries to describe universities on the basis of six dimensions (teaching and learning profile; student profile; research activity; knowledge exchange; international orientation; regional engagement), the “U-Multirank project” aims at creating global rankings for the range of these dimensions.
I am of the opinion that the European Commission’s efforts are justified. Sometimes, the hype about university rankings reminds me at the evaluation of corporation’s and state’s credit worthiness by rating agencies. The past has shown that such evaluations are not always the real deal.
In Switzerland, rankings still do not play a major role in public debate. Precisely for this reason, the discussion in the United States on this issue is of great interest to me. What role do rankings play when chosing a university? What proposals are discussed to improve the significance of rankings? Or do these problems even not raise any discussions in the U.S.?