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Obsession With Rankings Goes Global [The Chronicle of Higher Education]

October 13, 2008

As universities compete harder for students and professors, they look more closely at their international standings

By Aisha Labi, The Chronicle of Higher Education

A Chinese list of the world’s top universities would seem an unlikely concern for French politicians. But this year, France’s legislature took aim at the annual rankings produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which claims to list the 500 best universities in the world. The highest-ranked French entry, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, comes in at No. 42.

Outraged by France’s overall weak showing in the rankings, which are dominated by American and British institutions, the French Senate issued a report arguing that the researchers were clearly biased in favor of English-speaking institutions.

Gallic pride aside, the legislators’ concern underscores a fundamental change in higher education. Simply put, it has become an international enterprise. The flow of students, researchers, and money now takes place on a global scale.

As a result, people are paying close attention to where their institutions end up in international as well as national rankings, however flawed they may be.

“Rankings are now part of the landscape, whether we like it or not,” says Pierre de Maret, a former rector of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and a board member of the European University Association.

He is no fan of the methodology used by the Shanghai rankings, but, he concedes, the list “has had a direct impact at the government level and has really shaken things up.”

Apportioning the Money

Some governments and universities use rankings to help determine how much public money the institutions receive and how that money is spent. [Click here to read the rest of the story. Subscription only.]

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