THE World University Rankings

Global university rankings "are simply not going to go away".

May 20, 2010

That is the view of Ben Wildavsky, author of the acclaimed book The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World, which was published this year.

Speaking earlier this month at the Carnegie Council, a US international-affairs organisation, Mr Wildavsky said that many people felt global rankings "measure the wrong things, create perverse incentives" and "don't tell you about the real effectiveness of a university".

But Mr Wildavsky, senior Fellow in research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, argued that rankings can be a force for good.

While there were problems with them, he said, they could be "very useful" for individuals, universities and policymakers. He pointed out that Times Higher Education's World University Rankings "quickly became used by policymakers as a way of looking at how much universities are respected by their peers", and had encouraged "self-examination on the part of universities, which have not always been terribly receptive to outside examination".

For Mr Wildavsky, the key question for those compiling rankings is "how to make them better".

"Times Higher Education acknowledged that there were a lot of flaws in its sampling and survey," he said. "It's trying to start the whole thing over again and is being very transparent.

"I'm on its Twitter feed and every couple of days it mentions a speech one of its head editors is giving about the need for more input about what it should do differently. I think that's great ... it is moving in the right direction."

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