Three ways world university rankings are disrupting global education

While it might seem that international university rankings have been around for a long time, they have in fact had a very short but impactful history.

The first international rankings, known as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, or Shanghai Rankings were produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China back in 2003. The UK’s QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings were promptly published the following year. Therefore, within a short, two year timeframe the world went from having, not one international university ranking, to being offered three entirely separate global listings.

As a result of the global benchmarking of universities public attention has been drawn outward and, to some degree, away from national rankings to a ‘wider screen view’ of  the opportunities an international education can offer. Governments are taking note, university executive boards are taking note and so are students.

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Here are three ways in which the international university rankings have changed the global educational landscape.

International rankings are firing up global competitiveness

The Shanghai Rankings were initially published as part of a government initiative to establish the standing of Chinese universities internationally. This plan paid off and in the 14 years since, Chinese universities have made a steady climb across all three international league tables. 

Other countries and their governments also became aware of the need to measure their global competitiveness against these new international rankings. This has impacted policy and has encouraged individual schools to utilize benchmarking criteria to raise their education standards and jockey for position.    

International rankings are promoting cross-border cooperation

Many emerging economies are looking at education as a top priority and what has been palpable over recent years is the increasing number of partnerships and collaborations being set up between international universities. Universities which may not have been on the international radar have, it seems, started to build recognition through their relationships with top ranked institutions. International collaboration allows schools to pool resources and share expertise, which can in turn fast-track their global competitiveness. Partnerships are also a means by which  universities can extend their reach to recruit the best international student talent.

International university rankings are influencing immigration policy

International student mobility has undergone steady growth since the 1990s and this trend is only likely to continue despite current debate surrounding immigration policy in countries such as the UK and the US. Nations such as Denmark and the Netherlands have in fact changed their immigration laws to favor talent from top international universities. Using points based systems, graduates from the highest ranked universities in the QS, Times and Shanghai Rankings are awarded a greater score.

In 2012 Russia passed legislation that would recognize degrees from foreign universities – as long as they featured in the top 300 in the QS, Times or Shanghai rankings. Other countries, such as Singapore, Japan, and Germany run similar programs in a bid to improve their higher education systems, build more world-class universities and attract top talent. More recently France’s president, Emanuel Macron launched the Tech Visa, otherwise known as the ‘talent visa’ for startup founders, employees and investors – all applicants must have a post-graduate degree from a recognized institution, and chances surely are, that if it’s from a top international university, the odds will work in their favor.   

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