How do university rankings relate to Recognition & Rewards?
By Tessa Groen, Reyer Gerlagh, Rolf Hut and Pieter Duisenberg (moderator)

The discussion in our session was all around the question of Recognition and Rewards can co-exist with international university rankings. During the session Tessa Groen explained that the rankings compare all universities with the number one-university in the ranking. Basically, it tells you how much you are like Harvard. Not how a university can become the best university for her students and the region it is a part of.

Rankings are still important for board members, politicians and lobbyists. It is how we decide who is good and who is not. They all make the rankings relevant. Using them as metrics to determine how good a university is, provides the biased methodology air to breath.

Despite of all the negatives, the participants of the session do not agree with the statement that to progress with recognition and rewards, universities should stop using and supporting rankings. Only 19% of the participants agreed with this statement.

The main take aways of this session are:

  • Rankings influence higher education policy. By allowing them to do this, we make them relevant.
  • We should not throw away what we have if the alternative is even worse. Metrics of which the rankings are based upon are a noisy instrument for quality comparison. The alternative, verbal and peer assessment, is also noisy and even sensitive to political plays. With this we will go from bad to worse. We need to find an evidence-based alternative.
  • Universities stand for excellent research, but they use the wrong metrics to show how “good” they are.
  • Right now, citations, reputation and funding are put in a black box to get a university ranking. With that, citations and university reputation are becoming important themselves. Considering this, we are not encouraging healthy scientific behaviour.
  • Universities are part of a regional, national and international ecosystem. Society can ask us what we with their taxpayers’ money. That is why universities should focus on international research and doing good for the society. Dutch students choose a university because it is nearby, not because of university rankings.