I am probably more positive about rankings than most professors. It is not that I don’t see their weaknesses. My view on ranking is, however, influenced by the fact that the alternative — lack of ranking systems – seems probably even more of a problem. If you don’t have rankings only insiders know what is happening. For universities this entrenches the status quo; old brand name universities have no competition as up and coming universities find it harder to get their messages across.
Of course rankings have many problems. Not least that whoever sets the rankings implicitly decides what is important. This leads to challenges when ranking systems value things that the organizations don’t value or vice versa.
Another problem is that schools are often primarily ranked on their MBA programs. If you aren’t applying to the MBA program the ranking — even if it were perfect for the MBA program — isn’t really going to be ideal for your purposes. Some suggest that MBA ranking are the ones people know means Deans concentrate on these which gives MBA programs excess influence over the school.
PhD programs aren’t typically covered by rankings so Urbancic (2008) suggests a system to rank PhD programs. This is explicitly designed to counter-balance “the disproportionate influence of master of business administration (MBA) rankings in business schools” (Urbancic, 2008, page 339). He focuses on accounting programs and looks at three attributes of PhD programs. 1) Faculty research award winners who graduated from the PhD program. 2) The PhD program’s graduates who are editorial board members on prestigious journals. 3) The PhD program’s graduates who have named positions at universities, i.e. very senior faculty. His intention is that the ranking can be reproduced easily in other disciplines and the rankings from various disciplines can be updated each year with minimal effort. Such a system could theoretically be administered by schools with limited resources rather than relying on the major publications (e.g., the FT) who don’t have much of an incentive to get involved with ranking relatively small PhD programs.
There are plenty of things you can argue with about Urbancic’s ranking, clearly it does not capture everyone in important, but I value his efforts to try this hard task. At least when you have his ranking methodology explained you can use this as a way to discuss what is, and isn’t, important for PhD programs.
Read: Frank Urbancic, (2008), A Multi-Attribute Approach for Ranking PhD Programs, July/August Journal of Education for Business