About league tables
It is estimated that there are about 17,000 universities in the world. They are of a wide variety, operate in different contexts, and may pursue different aims and objectives. Therefore, it does not always make sense to rank one of them as better or worse than the other. Still, there are attempts to compile rankings and league tables of 'the best' universities in the world, or in any given country.
League tables attempt to measure the best universities in the world or in any given country.
Since universities operate in different contexts and pursue different objectives, you should look at as many league tables as you can, and treat them all with caution.
Different league tables measure different things. You should check whether the table you're looking at actually measures the things you're interested in. They also assign different weights to the things they do measure. You should know which of the topics they cover they consider to be more important. The weightings may vary from one year to the next (often without any notice or explanation). This would affect the rankings even if nothing else had changed.
Small changes in data can make a big difference in rankings from one year to the next. Therefore, you should ideally look at a university’s rankings over time, not just for the current year.
We also recommend that you look at single-topic rankings such as the National Student Survey or the Employability Rankings. They only measure one thing, rather than bundle together different things. This generally makes them more reliable.
Most of the common rankings and league tables are compounded out of a number of single-topic rankings. Their outcomes depend on the way in which the compounding is done.
Many university league tables are compiled and published by newspapers. When you look at them, you should remember that the first priority of a newspaper is to sell a story to the public.
Our position on university rankings and league tables recommends that you treat them all with caution. If you wish to do some more research on the topic, here are some authoritative reports and articles.
- Rauhvargers, Andrejs (2011) Global University Rankings and Their Impact (PDF: 3.4MB). EUA Report on Rankings 2011. Brussels: European University Association.
- Brink, Chris (2010) Comparability ≠ Ranking (PDF: 178KB). Symposium on University Rankings. European Centre for Parliamentary Studies, June 2010, Brussels.
- Hazelkorn, Ellen (2009) Rankings and the battle for world-class excellence. Higher Education Management and Policy, 21(1), pp. 55-76.
- West, Peter W. A. (2009) A Faustian bargain? Institutional responses to national and international rankings. Higher Education Management and Policy, 21(1), pp. 11-18.