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January 1, 1990

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Reputation is the currency of global higher education today, argues Phil Baty, accepted by scholars, students, donors and industry

The expert opinions of about 60,000 experienced scholars from across the world have been used to create the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings.

The tables, now in their fourth year, draw on the world’s largest invitation-only academic opinion survey. It is administered annually by leading polling company Ipsos MediaCT to ensure that the results are fair, balanced, statistically sound and truly representative of global scholarship in terms of both geography and subject discipline.

The 2014 rankings are based on 10,536 responses from 133 countries to Thomson Reuters’ 2013 Academic Reputation Survey, carried out in spring that year. The respondents are all published, research-active scholars and have an average of 18 years’ experience in higher education.

Combined with 16,639 responses in 2012, 17,554 in 2011 and 13,388 in 2010, a total of 58,117 leading scholars have engaged with our project. We are exceptionally grateful that they have been willing to give up their time and offer their expertise to provide an unparalleled picture of a highly significant aspect of global higher education today – universities’ international standing.

The Roman wit Publilius Syrus famously wrote: “A good reputation is more valuable than money.” But in today’s academy, reputation is the currency: research has shown that institutional standing is the top consideration for academics when moving jobs, is vital for the formation of international collaborations, and is essential in persuading philanthropists to give and industrial partners to invest.

Reputation is also fundamental to student decision-making. Research by recruitment agents IDP has shown that a university’s good name is the prime consideration – above tuition fees and even course content – for international students when choosing study destinations. The “brand” (and yes, it is a brand) on the degree certificates that students will carry for life is all-important.

But while such prestige is subjective and often unfair (where based, for example, on past glories or the halo effect of a vibrant city), reputation, as international higher education expert Simon Marginson has said, “is real and cannot be wished away”.

“Reputation can be affected by marketing, rumour and factors from outside the sector, but it cannot be faked,” Marginson, now at the Institute of Education, has said.

Or as Socrates put it: “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.”

Phil Baty is the Times Higher Education Rankings editor.

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