The copious detail in Ellen Hazelkorn‘s Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education makes it a useful read. A challenge with her approach is that she is able to give an excellent snapshot of higher education in 2011. Sadly, as things have moved on this leaves some bits dated. Still, I would think the key points remain. One of which is that rankings matter, for good or ill.
Hazelkorn lays out the impact of rankings on higher education. Very impressively this is a highly international study. She does not tell us about one country, e.g., the US, and extrapolate from there. Instead, she has great detail on Germany, Japan, and Australia. She discusses the US and the UK. The book even brings in notes from other countries, e.g., Finland.
Analysis Without Being Too Doom Laden
I thought she did a good job of highlighting the challenges of ranking. She did that without the doom laden wailing that seems to accompany many academic views. (It is pretty easy to point to flaws in any ranking. Indeed, in all rankings so I find that a pretty dull activity). She talks about how rankings are compiled. Sensibly, she notes that there are strengths and weaknesses to all approaches. She highlights using third party data, asking the higher education institutions for data, or surveying stakeholders.
Rankings Matter Because People Think They Matter
Hazelkorn notes that people think rankings matter which is enough to ensure they do. Reaction to them drives many decisions, e.g., funding, application, recruitment. To Hazelkorn they have become a bit of a global obsession. “[T]he language of rankings has insinuated itself into public discourse at almost every level of decision-making and public commentary around the world” (Hazelkorn, 2011, page 189)
I appreciated Hazelkorn’s good sense in her discussion. “In response, [to rankings], higher education has become more professionally and strategically managed and organized, there is greater focus on quality and performance, and producing the evidence to support claims of excellence, less self-declaration and more verification” (Hazelkorn, 2011, page 202). Sadly this has not come without a cost. “By elevating rankings and their indicators to god-like status, rankings and their many cheerleaders threaten to undermine the breadth of higher education’s contribution and benefit to society and the economy”. (Hazelkorn, 2011, page 202).
Costs and Benefits
Reasonable people can argue about the size of the costs and benefits. Yet, it is hard to argue with the basic idea that rankings matter. What is more they clearly have both positives and negatives. I think most would agree, that because many stakeholders find them useful, whatever their flaws, rankings are likely here to stay.
Read: Ellen Hazelkorn (2011) Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education, Palgrave Macmillan
For more see http://neilbendle.com/ranking-business-schools/