By Ruth A. Pagell*
The 37 chapters in Hazelkorn’s and Mihut’s Research Handbook on university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence and impact bring together a broad spectrum of topics concerning university rankings, geopolitics, and higher education policy. This review highlights a selection of chapters from well-known international researchers to local authors. All chapters are listed in Appendix 49.A. The book is a must-have purchase for those higher education policymakers, administrators, and researchers directly involved in all aspects of university performance. I have included options for finding publications by authors of chapters that will be of interest to selected readers.
“If rankings did not exist, someone would invent them” (Altbach, 2021b, xxiv)
(14 Mar 2022) It is amazing how quickly time flies when you are going nowhere and doing nothing professional but writing articles for ACCESS. In January 2021, I began my quest to find new rankings based on a webinar sponsored by CIHE, Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, “Are rankings still fit for purpose?” (Hazelkorn and Usher). The webinar promoted Research handbook on university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence and impact”, released at the end of 2021. More than a year after the webinar, here is the review.
In 2014, Ruth’s Rankings 2 provided a brief overview of the history of rankings and higher education policy. In 2016 I reviewed “The new flagship university” (Douglass in RR 20 and 21). In 2017 I reviewed Hazelkorn’s “From Bibliometrics to geopolitics: an overview of global rankings and geopolitics in higher education” (RR 29). Based on searches in Web of Science, Scopus, and Dimensions, there are a limited number of articles on university rankings and either geopolitics or higher education policy. The Handbook is an important resource for bringing these topics together.
STRUCTURE OF RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON UNIVERSITY RANKINGS
The Handbook has three themes, six parts, and 37 chapters.
Hazelkorn and Mihut, the editors, identify three themes:
- Geopolitical reshaping of the higher education landscape
- The business of rankings
- Meaningful indicators and measuring performance
The six parts are:
- Part I – Conceptual and theoretical framings with seven chapters
- Part II – Methodological tensions with six chapters
- Part III – Institutional behaviour and the quality agenda with seven chapters
- Part IV – Quality, teaching and student choice with five chapters
- Part V – The (Geo)politics of higher education with seven chapters
- Part VI – Policy issues and responses with five chapters
DISAGGREGATING THE HANDBOOK
The 37 chapters have over 70 authors. A few have had multiple affiliations, including with international organizations. Their names should be familiar to followers of the development of university rankings. Others have local perspectives. Many of the authors have additional relevant articles, accessible through searching Dimensions or ResearchGate.
Over 15 rankings are mentioned in the Handbook. The big three, Times Higher Education (THE), ARWU (Shanghai), and QS receive the most coverage, followed by USNews. Hazelkorn and Mihut in Chapter 1 and Holmes in Chapter 9 list the IREG approved rankings.
All 37 chapters are listed in Appendix 49.A. Nonsubscribers can search within the book, read abstracts for each chapter, and browse the index as shown in Appendix 49.B. Individual chapters cannot be purchased. The “Foreword” and the first chapter are open access.
Scanning the Handbook revealed areas of interest beyond our usual scope of Asia-Pacific. I have selected several chapters to highlight. Those associated with the Business of Rankings will follow as an update to RR 32 in which I will also suggest rating universities as businesses.
Foreword. “Reflections on Rankings”. Altbach’s foreword is an excellent overview of the history of rankings and some of the known problems with the rankings, which he labels “A Contemporary Critique”. Anyone unfamiliar with university rankings or who needs a review should start by reading the foreword.
Chapter 1. “Introduction: Putting rankings in context: looking back, looking forward” (Hazelkorn and Mihut). The introduction provides a history of rankings starting in 1900 and a timeline of global rankings, beginning in 2003. The authors see a future landscape requiring more meaningful indicators, covering areas such as student learning, societal engagement, and the “third mission” which is a better response to the needs of societies, students, and government in the 21st century (Hazelkorn and Mihut, 2021, pg.11). The article includes an extensive list of references, with open access links where available.
Chapter 2. “The reality underneath the rankings: trends in global science”, S Marginson. Trends include
- Growth of over five percent a year in papers
- Spread of national science systems to middle-income and some lower-income countries
- Growth of collaboration at global and national levels
- Bias in favor of Anglophone countries since Web of Science and Scopus capture primarily publications in English.
Chapter 33. “Do rankings promote academic excellence? World-class universities in perspective?” J Salmi. This article provides a good afterview, pulling a lot of what has gone before together. For a fun vision of the future, read “The Museum of 20th-Century Universities” (Salmi 2021).
Internationalization is an important component in THE and QS, focusing on the number of international students and faculty. CWTS Leiden has an entire module on collaborative publications.
Chapter 10. “Rankings and internationalization: an unfortunate alliance,” Blanco, Rumbley, and de Wit. The chapter promotes a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to internationalization with a focus on internationalization at home, not mobility. This can include the internationalization of the curriculum, online learning, and reducing the carbon footprint. de Wit also co-edited a new book on internationalization for a Routledge series (de Wit, 2022)
Geographic coverage: Not included in the official structure of the book is geographic coverage. Chapters 14, “Quality assurance and rankings”, and Chapter 22, a student survey, focus on Europe. Asia is highlighted in Chapter 17, using Japan for the example, and in Chapter 27, which charts China’s quest for world-class status. Highlighted below are chapters from regions that are often under-represented, Latin America and Africa.
Latin America: Chapters 18. “Striving for excellence in the age of rankings: insights from two leading research universities”. Bernasconi and Knobel use two of the top universities in the region, Pontifica Universidad Catόlica de Chile and the Brazilian Universidade Estadual de Campinas, as examples, while including background information about university systems in the region. They state the rankings are making universities more accountable.
Chapter 34. “Why research matters: Latin America facing world-class universities and rankings”. Maldonado-Maldonado and Cortes-Valesco, instead of expressing concern over the emphasis on publications and citations in many of these rankings, believe that the way to improve Latin American universities’ performance in the rankings is to “invest greater effort in enhancing research output”.
Africa: In Chapter 29. Damtew Teferra offers an in-depth critique of the ranking of African universities. This is a must-read for those of us unfamiliar with the higher education, publishing and language situation in Africa. This has been an ongoing topic for Teferra (2015, 2017). A more recent article is a critique of a theory of de Wits and Hunter (Teferra, 2019). Check ResearchGate for his published research (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Damtew-Teferra ).
After working my way through the Handbook, it was time for my morning walk. I randomly pulled out a sports T-Shirt that said, “What does it take to be #1?” What does this have to do with the Handbook? It reminded me to look at Chapter 35: “Football lessons for universities or how to go beyond rankings” S. Stride et. al. (11 authors affiliated with SIRIS, Academic a research lab in Barcelona). Applying their analysis of data used for ranking football teams (U.S. Soccer), they recommended: a) never use aggregate rankings beyond communication, b) select indicators that best reflect specific aspects of the mission, and c) interpret the meaning of each indicator with a dose of skepticism.
Given its broad scope, this book is a must-have for higher education policymakers, administrators, and researchers who are directly involved in all aspects of university performance. An underlying theme is that there will always be rankings and there need to be improvements in the ranking indicators and applications. The rankings are only as good as the people who are interpreting them. Hopefully, this book will end up in their hands.
There are many interesting and unique chapters in this Handbook. To read individual chapters requires purchasing the entire book. My frustration over users not being able to access individual chapters led to the realization that many books of readings require purchasing the entire book. Journals are disaggregated. Why can’t we do the same with eBooks? Editors of these books, many of whom are proponents of open access, should work with book publishers to change their models and enable purchases of individual chapters.
RESOURCES- Cited or supporting publication
Altbach, P.G. (2021)” Forward, Reflection on Rankings. Research Handbook on University Rankings” accessed at https://www.elgaronline.com/view/edcoll/9781788974974/9781788974974.00006.xml
de Wit, H., Mineava, E., and Wang, Lizhou, eds. (2022). International student recruitment and mobility in Non-Anglophone countries. Theories, themes, and patterns. New York, Routledge, accessed at
Douglass, J.A. ed. (2016). The new flagship university: Changing the paradigm from global ranking to national relevancy. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, accessed at https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057/9781137500496 (individual chapters for purchase).
Hazelkorn, E. ed (2016). Global rankings and the geopolitics of higher education: Understanding the influence and impact of rankings on higher education, policy, and society. New York, Routledge, with online information at https://www.routledge.com/Global-Rankings-and-the-Geopolitics-of-Higher-Education-Understanding/Hazelkorn/p/book/9781138828117
Hazelkorn, E. and Mihut, G. (2021) Chapter 1- “Introduction: putting rankings in context looking back, looking forward” accessed at
Hazelkorn, E. and Mihut, G. eds. (2021). Research handbook on university rankings: Theory, methodology, influence, and impact. Cheltenham, UK. Edward Elgar, accessed at https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/usd/research-handbook-on-university-rankings-9781788974974.html
Hazelkorn, E. and Usher, A. (January 2021). “Are rankings still fit for purpose?” CIHE, accessed at
Salmi, J. (April, 2021). “The museum of 20th century universities”. Inside Higher Ed https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2021/04/09/imagining-look-back-where-higher-education-now-opinion
Teferra, D. (August 2019). “Defining internationalisation – Intention versus coercion”. University World News, accessed at https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20190821145329703
Teferra, D. (Fall 2017). “Tempest in the rankings teapot: An African perspective”. Inside Higher Education
Teferra, D. (August 2015). The blunder of ranking African universities. University World News,
RESOURCES – Ruth’s Rankings:
2. (August 2014). “A brief history of rankings and higher education policy”.
20. (July 2016). “World Class Universities and the New Flagship University: Reaching for the Rankings or Remodeling for Relevance”, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-20-world-class-universities-new-flagship-university-reaching-rankings-remodeling-relevance/
21. (October 2016). “Flagship Universities in Asia: From bibliometrics to econometrics and social indicators”, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-21-flagship-universities-asia-bibliometrics-econometrics-social-indicators/
29. (September 2017). “From Bibliometrics to Geopolitics: An overview of Global rankings and geopolitics in higher education”, edited by E Hazelkorn, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-29-bibliometrics-geopolitics-overview-global-rankings-geopolitics-higher-education-edited-ellen-hazelkorn/
32. (January 2018). “The business of rankings: Show me the money”, http://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-32-business-rankings-show-money/
44.1. (February 2020) What’s the best university for an international student? Metrics from the student’s perspective, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-44-part-1-whats-best-university-international-student-metrics-students-perspective/
The 2021 Ruth’s Rankings are all devoted to introducing new indicators. Click here for a list of Ruth’s Rankings: https://librarylearningspace.com/list-ruths-rankings/
I would like to thank Hilary Nicholls, Edward Elgar’s representative, for providing me with access to the Handbook, and the help desk at Google Play for helping me navigate the book.
From the publisher: The eBook version is priced from £48/$68 from eBook vendors while in print the book can be ordered from the Edward Elgar Publishing website.
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674