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10th June 2024

UK Universities and Global Rankings need a Balanced Perspective

Kim Mclellan reflects on recent headlines...

“UK universities are not moving backward; they are simply late to the game and not yet adept at playing it.”

Lately there have been suggestions UK universities are in decline, but a closer look reveals a more complex picture. Our Managing Director, Kim has some insights to provide further clarity on the situation.

“I found myself frustrated by the headline, ‘UK universities face irreversible decline, global league table suggests.’ This seemingly critical perspective on UK universities masks the reality of their impressive performance despite significant challenges.

A bar chart showing the countries with the most institutions moving up in the QS World University Rankings 2025. China is first with 48, followed by India (28), the UK (20), Germany (19) and Australia (18)

The article does, however, make valid points about funding and competition. Here are my 3 insights on the situation:

1.Late to the ‘Rankings Party,’

The UK has only seriously focused on reputation and rankings as a sector since post-COVID. In many respects, we are struggling to catch up. Addressing this requires a truly collaborative approach, but the lack of agility and siloed nature of UK universities hurts them. However, they are starting to figure this out!

2.Don’t know how to play the ‘Rankings Game’

Few universities we encounter know how to play the ‘Rankings Game.’ They often lack an understanding of the criteria methodology and don’t have a plan to influence rankings through operational and marketing strategies. This is before even tackling data uploads, citations, Scopus, and sustainability.

3.’Fierce Ranking Competition’

We must appreciate that the rest of the world (especially Asia) has significantly ramped up their focus on rankings and their undeniable link to recruitment and research investment. Global universities are placing enormous emphasis on this, and the financial returns that can come from getting it right.”

Understanding the Rankings is Essential

Our experts in international brand strategy will analyse the factors affecting your current university and subject rankings. We will ask targeted questions to fully comprehend your current initiatives and identify areas for improvement.

QS World University Rankings – Methodology | University rankings, World ...

Academic Reputation: This makes up 40% of the total score. It measures the academic quality and respect that universities around the world have. Over 150,000 academics from more than 140 countries provide input for this measure. At Hunterlodge we’ll be asking:

a.What’s your visibility in each country?

b.What do you do to get noticed and what do you have to shout about?

c.How strong are the relationships with academic contacts submitted to QS?

Faculty/Student Ratio: This accounts for 15% of a university’s score. It looks at how many faculty members are available for students, indicating the resources for teaching and support. This includes class sizes and the overall capacity for student support. QS admits this measure has limits, especially with the rise of online teaching.

Citations per Faculty: This makes up 20% of the score. It looks at how often a university’s research is cited. QS uses data from Scopus, and they calculate the score by dividing the total number of citations by the number of faculty members. This method helps balance the influence of different research fields. QS has made adjustments to ensure fairness across all fields, although some concerns remain, especially for non-English-speaking institutions.

Employer Reputation: This indicator makes up 15% of the score and comes from a survey of about 99,000 employers. It measures how well employers regard the quality of graduates from different universities. This was included to gauge teaching quality and job readiness of graduates. At Hunterlodge we’ll be looking at:

a.How many corporate partners you have in each country.

b.What you do to get noticed and what you have to shout about.

c.How strong your relationships are with employer contacts submitted to QS.

International Faculty and Student Ratio: Contributing 10% to the total score, this metric measures the percentage of international students and staff at a university, reflecting its global appeal and diversity. Recently, QS divided this into two separate measures, each accounting for 5%. We will examine how your university attracts international students and fosters global partnerships across countries.

Other Factors: Starting from the 2024 rankings, QS introduced three new indicators, each making up 5% of the score:

1.International Research Network: Evaluates a university’s capability to establish global research partnerships. How robust are these international collaborations, and what underpins these relationships? Key components include exchange programs, joint degrees, and research collaborations.

2.Employment Outcomes: Evaluates the effectiveness of a university in securing jobs for its graduates. Universities should establish industry partnerships, utilise their alumni networks, and proactively showcase their student employment outcomes. We can facilitate this by leveraging alumni case studies to share stories of success.

3.Sustainability: Evaluates how effectively a university implements sustainable practices. Universities across the UK are integrating sustainability into research, campus operations, and community engagement. These efforts need to be more widely publicised.

UK universities are not moving backward; they are simply late to the game and not yet adept at playing it. They need to learn how to strategically improve their rankings and effectively communicate their successes. By focusing on the performance criteria, UK universities can improve their global standings. The key is to move forward with a clear plan and a willingness to promote their achievements.

Get in touch today for a consultative call to discuss how we can help you rise up the rankings. kim.mclellan@hunterlodge.co.uk

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