How important are university rankings to students and employers?

In a co-authored study that has just been published in hard copy, Professor Jürgen Enders investigates international students’ and employers’ use of university rankings. The article examines the proposition that HE customers – students and employers – demand rankings to be able to make informed decisions on where to study and who to recruit respectively.

The authors find that the ranking game is more about positional competition struggles than about widely spread information use. Rankings are a crucial source of information only for particular groups of international students and employers.

The findings show a complex set of explanatory factors in the use of rankings. For example, rather than following ranking logics, some students and employers may follow labour market signals or consumption logics. 

The findings also reveal a differential use of rankings by employers. While they are of high importance for blue chip multinational corporations, other employers seem to rely more on local knowledge and affiliations for their graduate recruitment.

The analysis also suggests that the state of economic development, cultural aspects and the availability of top-ranked universities in a student’s home country are important factors in explaining differences in the importance of rankings across countries.

The authors conclude that national governments and universities should re-visit the assumption of a wide-spread importance of rankings for students and employers.

International students’ and employers’ use of rankings: a cross-national analysis is published in Studies in Higher Education.