The publication of three papers in the last few days has drawn attention to the issue of conflict of interest in the ranking of global universities. It is well known that some of the major ranking agencies provide a variety of services such as advertising, consulting, benchmarking, reputation management, and event hosting that may raise concerns about their ability to provide fair and impartial assessment.
‘Developing a method for evaluating global university rankings’ by Gadd, Holmes and Shearer in Scholarly Assessment Reports discusses a proposed method for rating global rankings that notes the concerns of the international research community including the reporting and managing of conflicts of interest.
The significance of this issue was underlined by a paper in Education Economics by Julien Jacqmin of NEOMA Business School. The paper notes that universities that advertise in Times Higher Education do better in subsequent rankings. The association is stronger for the Teaching, Research and Citations indicators. Jacqmin discusses whether this is due to media bias or other factors.
A paper by Igor Chirikov of the University of California at Berkeley finds that Russian universities who were frequent clients of QS Quacquarelli Symonds services such as the QS Stars Audit are able to make significant improvements in the overall ranking score and in the faculty student ratio indicator although apparently not in other indicators or other rankings. The author suggests that what is happening is that rankers are “interpreting the data submitted by “frequent client” universities differently than from other types of institutions.” He does, however, note that there is another explanation of the data.
QS has responded to the Berkeley paper. There will no doubt be more discussion about these papers and it seems that the question of conflicts of interest within ranking agencies will continue to be controversial.