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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



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Palgrave Communications 3. doi:10.1057/s41599-017-0011-6;


Science has always operated in a competitive environment, but the globalisation of knowledge and the rising popularity and use of global rankings have elevated this competition to a new level. The quality, performance and productivity of higher education and university-based research have become a national differentiator in the global knowledge economy. Global rankings essentially measure levels of wealth and investment in higher education, and they reflect the realisation that national pre-eminence is no longer sufficient. These developments also correspond with increased public scrutiny and calls for greater transparency, underpinned by growing necessity to demonstrate value, impact and benefit. Despite on-going criticism of methodologies, and scepticism about their overall role, rankings are informing and influencing policy-making, academic behaviour, stakeholder opinions—and our collective understanding of science. This article examines the inter-relationship and tensions between the national and the global in the context of the influences between higher education and global university rankings. It starts with a discussion of the globalisation of knowledge and the rise of rankings. It then moves on to consider rankings in the context of wider discourse relating to quality and measuring scholarly activity, both within academia and by governments. The next section examines the relationship and tensions between research assessment and rankings, in policy and practice. It concludes by discussing the broader implications for higher education and university-based research. DOI: 10.1057/s41599-017-0011-6