World Reputation Rankings 2017: brand: that’s you, in a word

Brand has substance: it is the distillation of an institution’s mission and relevance, says Phil Baty

June 14, 2017
Brand sign
Source: iStock

Browse the full Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2017 results


Scholars who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth can remain deeply suspicious of marketing, communications and reputation management efforts by universities.

At its worst, a focus on the university as a brand can imply superficiality and sometimes even disingenuousness – as institutions seek to paint over cracks and present a flattering picture of themselves, boil down complex issues into glib soundbites that grab the attention of a fickle media, cover up embarrassments or quieten dissenters, all in the interest of protecting their names.

But there is no escaping the fact that universities are indeed brands, whether academics like it or not, and a growing amount of senior leadership’s time, attention and resources are being devoted to creating, nurturing, reviving and protecting brands in higher education.

Speaking to Times Higher Education in 2016, Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, explained that many academics considered “brand” to be a “dirty word”. “Many of them find it a distasteful concept, I think partly because it doesn’t really speak to the substance of what we do,” he said. But as a university leader, he had to take it seriously: “It’s an image that people associate with us. And we want that image to be as positive as possible.”

Research has shown that a university’s brand and reputation are highly influential in attracting talent – among both students and staff – and can influence philanthropy and investment. In many respects, reputation is the currency of global higher education.

So what is the secret to a great university brand? According to experts Susannah Baker and Anna Myers, it all comes down to the “three Rs” – being “rare, relevant and real”. “Rare” is essential in a crowded market, where too many institutions claim to be world class on the same terms. Finding a distinct voice is essential. “Relevant” is ever more important in a post-truth era when confidence in institutions is at an all-time low (see Harvard’s vice-president for public affairs and communications, Paul Andrew) and where politicians are comfortable claiming that people are sick of experts or talking about “alternative facts”.

But surely nothing is more important than keeping things “real”. In higher education, a brand is nothing if it is not utterly authentic. It was Coca-Cola chief Muhtar Kent who said: “A brand is a promise. A good brand is a promise kept.” But Socrates said something very similar centuries earlier: “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.”

THE ensures that the annual Academic Reputation Survey, on which the World Reputation Rankings are built, is based as far as possible on kept promises – on reality. Rather than poll the wider public, we survey about 10,000 senior published scholars every year on an invitation-only basis, to ensure a statistically representative global sample, covering geography and subject mix. We question them based on their subject-specific expert judgement, and ask them to name institutions that they know, through their professional networks and their experience, are carrying out world-class teaching and research.

This has helped us to ensure that we are able to publish each year the most powerful and insightful list of the world’s leading university brands. 

Phil Baty
Editor, Times Higher Education Rankings
Twitter: @Phil_Baty


Countries represented in the top 100

Country    

Number of institutions in top 100

Top institution

Rank

United States

42

Harvard University

1

United Kingdom

10

University of Cambridge

=4

University of Oxford

=4

China

6

Tsinghua University

14

Germany

6

LMU Munich

=42

Japan

6

University of Tokyo

11

Netherlands

4

University of Amsterdam

51-60

Delft University of Technology

51-60

Australia

3

University of Melbourne

=46

Canada

3

University of Toronto

24

France

3

Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris

38

Hong Kong

3

University of Hong Kong

39

South Korea

3

Seoul National University

=46

Switzerland

3

ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

22

Singapore

2

National University of Singapore

27

Sweden

2

Karolinska Institute

51-60

Belgium

1

KU Leuven

71-80

Brazil

1

University of São Paulo

91-100

Denmark

1

University of Copenhagen

81-90

Russian Federation

1

Lomonosov Moscow State University

30

Taiwan

1

National Taiwan University

51-60

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