I just returned from the UNESCO Global Forum: Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses held in Paris on May 16-17. The conference was the first organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank. Representatives of the major global, regional, and national rankings, like U.S. News's Best Colleges, were in attendance from around the world. Also participating were high-level government policy makers, academics, representatives of the media, students, and employers. It provided a unique opportunity for rankers to engage in a vibrant exchange with policy makers and other stakeholders on the merits and shortcomings of rankings and their uses. There was an examination of the policy implications of rankings for institutions and governments, an analysis of why they have become so widespread and their influence so strong, and a discussion of the significant differences between national and global rankings and an examination of their use by schools, policy makers, governments, students, and the general public.
University rankings were analyzed in the context of accountability tools intended to sustain and enhance the quality of higher education. There was one talk that examined other forms of accountability tools that draw on a variety of criteria and expertise such as quality assurance frameworks; benchmarking; assessment of learning outcomes; accreditation, licensing, and evaluation. There was also a session on the need for greater transparency in higher education and rankings in the context of the drive for "world class excellence," and increased competition among higher education institutions, and the role of UNESCO, OECD, and the World Bank as advocates for improving higher education systems.
My thoughts on the global forum: the conference clearly proves the growing importance and impact that rankings are having both internationally and globally. The participants in the conference—including rankers, policy makers, university administrators, and other stakeholders—benefited from the frank exchange of ideas and opinions. College rankings have now become a permanent part of the academic landscape in the United States as well as in more than 40 countries where rankings are being published. They have become a key part of the accountability movement.
This rapid growth of rankings globally led to the creation of the IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence (IREG) in December 2004 in Washington. This initiative includes experts who develop or analyze academic ranking systems. IREG also involves media and governmental and nongovernmental organizations worldwide that publish rankings and researchers and others who scrutinize and critique academic rankings.
Recently IREG has been developing the IREG Ranking Audit that will assure rankings and rankers meet high standards. U.S. News is proud to be one of IREG's founding organizations and a member of IREG's Executive Committee. We believe these global efforts will lead to better rankings being published. IREG's next event is October's IREG Forum: National University Rankings on the Rise in Bratislava, Slovakia, that will be broad discussion about the importance of national rankings.
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