Why Rankings Matter for Universities
University rankings, which increasingly impact both universities' development strategies and state policy in higher education, was one of the main topics discussed at the meeting of the HSE's International Advisory Committee.
HSE in Rankings
The main task of HSE's administration is to achieve the harmonious development of the whole university. In this sense, rankings that attract attention is not an end in itself but is instead an important tool in assessing the university effectiveness, says Vadim Radaev, HSE First Vice Rector in his welcoming speech. In addition, the rankings, with all their flaws, give a good idea of how the university looks from a comparative perspective.
Over the past two years HSE has made some progress in this area. And if, for example, the progress in QS World University Ranking can be described as moderate, in QS subject rankings HSE’s breakthrough is much more considerable. There are some key reasons for this: in the World University ranking, the natural and technical sciences, which HSE has only recently started developing (as compared with the social sciences and humanities that have always been fundamental to HSE), play an important role.
Rankings have become the driver of decision-making in higher education at institutional and national levels
But in QS Subject Rankings, HSE is already among the top 150 in economics and econometrics, sociology and political studies, and it is in the top 200 in philosophy, management and accounting and auditing. In the Times Higher Education ranking, HSE takes 83rd place in ‘Business and Economics’ globally. ‘We didn't expect such rapid growth in these rankings, we thought we would need more time. HSE is the first Russian university to achieve these results in social sciences,’ says Vadim Radaev.
Trust, but Verify
In not over-emphasizing rankings, HSE is taking the right approach, says Philip Altbach, member of the HSE International Advisory Committee, and Founding Director of the Center for International Higher Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. The university's improved position in the rankings is one of the results of its development, not its cause. Professor Altbach agrees that the social sciences and humanities are underrepresented in these rankings. In addition, some rankings place too much emphasis on a university’s reputation, while others use indicators that are difficult to measure (such as the quality and nature of education, graduates’ employability, etc.).
Since those who compile the rankings aim to cover an increasing number of indicators, that means they will inevitably face new methodological problems. However, this does not mean the ‘end of rankings’ — they are here to stay, says Philip Altbach.
Ellen Hazelkorn, another member of the Committee, Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (Ireland), agrees. On the one hand, rankings are important to every university. On the other hand, their impact on public policy is growing. Research conducted by Professor Hazelkorn in several countries has shown that rankings have become the driver of decision-making in higher education at institutional and national levels. This is the case in countries with very different academic and educational cultures, such as Russia, China, and Australia.
Why Ratings Matter
Universities and governments set their strategic goals and assess the results of their implementation in part based on these rankings. Rankings affect students’ and professors’ choice of a university to study and work at and potential partners’ decisions when selecting a university for international cooperation initiatives. Even when the word ‘ranking’ is not mentioned, it is replaced by such epithets as ‘best’ or ‘world class’, meaning exactly the same thing — among those ranked as leaders.
It is vital any university determines several major advantages and that it ‘digs deeper’ to develop them, rather than aiming at everything at once
A survey conducted by the European University Association (EUA) showed that 47% of universities mentioned their presence in international rankings in their development strategies as a ‘clear goal’, with another 14% including national rankings as among their aims. 86% of universities constantly monitor their positions in rankings.
What Strategy to Choose
Universities choose different strategies by which to advance in the rankings, but the result largely depends on how reasonable and applicable they are. This is well illustrated by the example of two universities — Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the University of Kentucky (USA). NTU, founded in Singapore in 1981, receives great political and financial support from the state. As a result, in a short time the university managed to increase key metrics for faculty, research, publications, international students and become the leader of THE ranking among ‘new universities’, in under 50 years. (HSE is very close to the top 50 in this ranking).
‘I call this ‘the Manchester United strategy’, says Ellen Hazelkorn. 'If you have so much money, resources and capabilities, what's stopping you?’
But not every university can estimate its capabilities correctly. The University of Kentucky aimed to be among the top 20 American universities by 2020. In order to achieve this goal it needed to additionally enroll almost 7,000 students and 1,000 lecturers and postdocs, as well as to increase research funding by 470 million dollars. However, this ambitious strategy has failed, and the 2007-2008 economic crisis also impacting the situation.
That's why universities should realistically assess their capabilities, and their aim of advancing up through the rankings should be consistent with the university’s mission. It is vital any university determines several major advantages and that it ‘digs deeper’ to develop them, rather than aiming at everything at once, says Ellen Hazelkorn.
In mid-June 2017, the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, Russia welcomed the Fifth International Summer School on Higher Education Research, a joint initiative between the HSE Institute of Education and Peking University’s China Institute for Educational Finance Research. This year, the Summer School focused on higher education and social inequality.
HSE has become one of three Russian universities to receive maximum points for the implementation of the Russian Academic Excellence Project. These results were announced following a meeting of the Council on Enhancing the Competitiveness of Leading Russian Universities among the Global Rresearch and Education Centres.
On March 17, 2017, a regular meeting of the Russian Academic Excellence Project 5-100 Council on Competitiveness Enhancement of Leading Russian Universities took place in Moscow. HSE representatives told the Council, which includes international experts, about the University’s achievements following the implementation of the first half of the Project. They also discussed their upcoming development plans.
‘Over the Last Two and a Half Years Five Russian Universities Have Joined the World’s Top-100 in Various Subjects’
HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov updated the President of Russia Vladimir Putin on the implementation of the Academic Excellence Project 5–100. He also suggested extending the project until 2025 and setting the objective that at least one Russian university be included in every subject-specific ranking by 2025.
HSE Vice Rector Ivan Prostakov discusses the results of a recent International Advisory Committee (IAC) meeting, as well as the priorities the university has set for its international activities.
Last week HSE International Advisory Committee held its annual meeting in Moscow. Eric Maskin, Nobel laureate in Economics, 2007, Chairman of the Committee and members of the IAC have talked to HSE News Service about the results of the meeting.
On December 7, at a meeting of the International Advisory Committee, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov discussed the changes underway at the university and explained how the Higher School of Economics is working towards true international competitiveness as part of the 5-100 Project.
The meeting of International Advisory Committee starts December 6. Three newly appointed members of IAC have shared with HSE News Service their views on the role of external consultants in the development of universities, described their reasons for joining the committee and spoke about HSE’s academic reputation and the challenges the university faces.
On October 19, the rectors of 21 top Russian universities met to discuss Russia’s position in international university rankings. These 21 universities are all are members of the Global Universities Association, the main purpose of which is to create a network for and inspire collaboration among schools participating in the widely discussed Project 5-100. Slated to last eight years, this project was established under Russia’s Presidential Decree No. 599, which aims to improve the standing of Russian universities among the world’s top schools and research centres.
On March 18th and 19th, the Council on Enhancing the Competitiveness of Russia’s Leading Universities met in Moscow to discuss Russia’s role on the world academic stage. As a result, the Council recommended that the Ministry of Education and Science allocate subsidies to three groups of universities in 2016. HSE made it into the first group.