The number of international university rankings is growing and their influence on universities and public policy is increasing. This is the result of a report commissioned by the European University Association (EUA), an organization representing 850 universities in 47 European countries, and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Since 2011, there have been significant new developments in the field of international rankings. New rankings have been launched by established providers like THE (Times Higher Education) and QS. A proliferation of multi-indicator tools and products for profiling, classifying or benchmarking institutions such as the Shanghai Research Consultancy Global Research University Profiles is seen. The approach of user-driven rankings appears to be gaining ground. A notable example is the U-Multirank project.
The growing volume of information and the growth in ranking activities increases the pressure on and the risk of overburdening universities, as institutions seek to maintain as high a profile as possible. At the institutional level, some universities have reported that they have started to use data compiled from rankings for benchmarking exercises that in turn feed into institutional strategic planning.
Rankings are also beginning to impact on public policy making as demonstrated by their influence in the development of immigration policies in some countries, in determining the choice of university partner institutions, or in which cases foreign qualifications are recognized.
The developments indicate the need for all stakeholders to reflect on the extent to which global rankings are no longer a concern only for a small number of elite institutions but have become a reality for a much broader spectrum of universities as they seek to be included in, or improve their position in one or the other rankings. This means that rankings have started to shape the development of higher education systems. This is a significant shift bearing in mind that most international rankings in their present form still only cover between 1 and 3% (200–500 universities) of the world’s 17,500 universities, with little consideration given to the rest.