Document Type



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



Publication Details

Presentation given at the Launch Workshop for Participating Regions, OECD/IMHE Reviews of Higher Education in Regional Development 2008-2010 (Paris, September 2008)


Globalisation is helping to create a ‘single world market’ in higher education (Marginson, 2006). A feature of this process is the emergence of global university rankings which have taken the practice of accountability, quality assurance and benchmarking to a worldwide level. Today, the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Times QS Ranking of World Universities are used by governments and HEIs as a measurement of competitiveness and reputation. An internationalist strategy is imperative not only for governments, but also globally-facing and regionally-focused HEIs. No one is immune. Many HEIs are using rankings to help define targets and set strategic goals. This includes modernising and professionalising their functions and services, boosting research excellence, and participating in global networks. The latter ensures greater global reach, strengthening and maximising institutional capability beyond the capacity of any single institution. One of the major criticisms of global rankings is that they distort higher education by measuring all HEIs according to the same metrics. They value some research as more important than other research, and fundamentally misunderstand the research/innovation process (Rothwell, 1994). By creating a single definition of world-class excellence, existing rankings are undermining other policy goals, e.g. institutional diversity, widening access and regional engagement. Higher education and policymakers are asking whether it is better to have world-class HEIs or a world-class HE system. In other words, should excellence be concentrated in a small number of institutions or spread across a diverse set of high performing, globally-focused institutions specialising according to relevance and competences? Can high performing globally focused HE system bring greater benefits to the cities and regions than a single world class university? This presentation will outline what we have learned about the impact of global rankings on higher education, and how this experience can be used to build knowledge cities and regions which maximise the expertise and potential of all institutions.