College rankings have become a powerful force both on the national and global levels over the last 25 years. A major concern for some university administrators around the world is how to use both the national rankings in their countries and the global rankings wisely in their mid-term and long-term strategic planning in order to build their institutions into world-class universities.
I was a co-author of a recently published paper, "An analysis of mobility in global rankings: making institutional strategic plans and positioning for building world-class universities," which joins a rapidly expanding body of literature on the impact of college rankings. The other authors on the paper were Angela Yung Chi Hou and Chung-Lin Chiang, both from the Faculty Development and Instructional Resources Center at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Taiwan.
The main purpose of this paper is to explore some the most influential indicators used in four of the major global university rankings—and explain how those key factors impact an institution's ability to move in the rankings and to be a potential model for internal strategic planning for building a world-class university. The four global rankings studied were:
• Academic Ranking of World Universities, known as the ARWU rankings
• Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities, also known as the HEEACAT rankings
The key conclusions of the paper included the following:
• Achieving good global rankings is becoming more important because it affects a school's general reputation, student recruitment, networks, alliance building, and even the recruitment of academics and attracting financial resources.
• If institutions are going to set goals about rising to a certain level in a given world ranking system, administrators must understand what actions need to be taken to reach that goal and what limitations could be encountered. Such knowledge will enable top decision makers on campus to set realistic goals.
• A clear vision, institutional features, favorable governance, and sufficient resources—which are not taken into account by any of the world rankings that were analyzed—are all crucial if a university is to rise and stay at the top in any of the rankings. When an institution focuses largely on improving these indicators, which are not part of the rankings, it could have the desired longer-term impact.
In other words, schools must improve in areas that go beyond just rankings indicators in order to become a world-class university. Therefore, it should be understood that "parachuting" Nobel Prize winners into the institution is not going to make it world-class overnight.
• Only institutions with effective leadership and vision have the potential to become "world-class" universities.