College Rankings: the View from China

Experts met in Shanghai to discuss higher education comparisons.

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Almost always lost in the ongoing American debates about college rankings is that over the past decade, education rankings have become a worldwide phenomenon. Today in at least 20 different countries, there is some form of higher education ranking published regularly, and more of these lists are being created each year. There are numerous types of rankings that are produced by the media, academic institutions, individuals, and governmental agencies.

I just returned from the third meeting of the International Rankings Expert Group (IREG), held at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai. The IREG was founded in December 2004, and its objective is to provide a forum for discussion and debate about university rankings among those who produce, publish, and study rankings. There were experts there from around the world, and their presentations were far ranging. There were academic experts from China, France, Greece, Australia, Germany, the United States, Russia, Britain, Spain, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Romania, Brazil, Ireland, and Canada.

Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank who has been a leader in facilitating these international discussions, says "the global phenomenon of higher education rankings is one of the most intriguing developments in higher education in the last decade. While sometimes controversial...these ranking systems are playing an increasing role as information tools for a variety of principal stakeholders in higher education—students, parents, leaders of...institutions, policymakers, corporate leaders, international organizations, and the public at large at the local, national, and international levels. Rankings are now a fundamental part of the present landscape of what higher education is and does."

My conclusions from the Shanghai meeting are:

  • Rankings are here to stay.
  • Rankings are now a worldwide phenomenon.
  • Rankings will continue to evolve on a country-by-country basis.
  • Rankings have found their place in the 21st century as a tool that can be used for consumers, assessment, accountability, peer analysis, and as a public benchmark to compare education performance and set goals.