Does increased competition in higher education lead to more quality, or does it undermine creativity?

Interview with Ulrich Teichler

08 May 2021

Foto: Heiko Meyer

Our conference (“University Rankings – Reflections from Social Sciences and Humanities”) aims at examining the role of global rankings from the reflections of various disciplines (humanities, social science, and natural science). What main questions or topics has your field (higher education research) discuss over the last 5-10 years? According to you, which are the most relevant questions?

Most higher education researchers, who have addressed rankings in their research activities, have pointed out the normative biases of the popular rankings (e.g. belief that the cumulation of talents in a few institutions might increase the overall academic productivity in a country, pre-occupation with elite higher education, disregard of diversity, disregard of the tension between academic quality and societal relevance, etc.). Some scholars have explored alternative quality measures.

What areas have the proliferation of global rankings impacted at level of higher education institutions (for instance, accountability, marketing, student recruitment)? 

I noted that most reports on impacts of rankings on higher education institutions have only looked at certain countries and certain sectors of the higher education system. I tried to widen the analysis and found much more diverse responses than public rumors suggest.

How have international rankings influenced or challenged the academic work, especially academics, academic faculty? What responses are academics giving to the pressure of global rankings?

Research on the academic profession shows both: On the one hand, adaptation to the power of rankings. For example, we note in some countries a decline of the number of publications, because an increasing number of academics want to publish almost exclusively in reviewed journals. On the other hand, we note signs of increasing diversity of academic views and activities. We still have no convincing answer to the often posed question: Does increased competition in higher education lead to more quality, or does it undermine creativity?

How do you see the future of international rankings? Are the pandemic and the shift to a more digitally-based education changing the rankings’ world?

I assume that the current debates on Corona and digitalization are short-term issues. In the long term, we will discuss more seriously: What are the tensions between academic quality and societal relevance? How much diversity of goals and profiles is needed in higher education? How much does higher education serve society through its elite products vs. through a growing wisdom among the majority of the population?

It is also an open question, whether professionalisation of higher education policy and management will increase: If so, interest in indicator-based information, such as ranking, will decline, and interest in more complex analyses will grow. The increased complexity of studies on employment and work of university graduates is an example of the latter.”

Professor Teichler’s keynote: “The Hidden Theoretical Underpinnings of the University Ranking Discourse”

19. May CET 14.00 – 15.00

Georgina KASZA

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