Echo of big brand sounds

March 21, 2013

Your latest set of World Reputation Rankings nicely demonstrate the circular reasoning that characterises much of the thinking about university reputations and branding. Your data come from asking scholars about the 15 best institutions in their fields. Few will have detailed, current and personal experience of more than about two or three institutions in addition to their own, so will be relying on general ideas of the “best places” in their disciplines, almost certainly reflecting league table rankings (“Stanford? Has to be good. Tokyo? Probably OK, too”) and hearsay evidence.

The results of this survey then feed into your World University Rankings - and the process begins again. This explains what you describe as the widening lead held by six so-called “super-brands” and the implausibly large gap between these institutions and other strong research-intensive universities: the more often these universities appear at the top of such lists, the more often they are likely to be mentioned when people are asked about the best places.

Paul Temple
Centre for Higher Education Studies
Institute of Education
University of London

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