College Rankings: Does it really measure Quality

Prof. D. Kiran Jeevan

Prof. Kiran Jeevan is an Associate Professor of Social Work at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore and also the PRO and the Placement Officer of the institution.


We all agree that higher education should have a futuristic vision though we sometimes forget where that vision emerges from and what should be the objective of higher education. An educational vision of the future should emerge from the present society and aim at societal change. That change however is not easy. We need an insight into the system to bring in changes in the sub-system.  

Education is a sub-system and it does not operate in isolation. We have an oppressive social structure in India and that structure is linked to higher education as well. Those who pass out from colleges and universities have been highly individualistic without any social conscience, able to corner lucrative jobs and other social privileges. We are witnessing substantial inequalities as a result of higher education in employment, and income based on caste and ethnicity etc. Culturally isolated are the institutions of higher learning that have not been able to perform as desired by the system?

Even the most consulted college rankings today are controversial. Are rankings bodies today looking at the most essential essence of quality educational experience? But rankings attract eyeballs—and plenty of them. People are endlessly obsessed with the pecking order of things, and that opens the door to fraud. We find many people who look at these rankings and decide on the standard of the institution.  The well-known Slovene philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, had coined the phrase ‘the end times’ to describe and explain the world we are living in. India has moved from a welfare state to a neo-liberal economy. With the implementation of neo-liberal policies, much of the changes that have taken place in the last decade have been on infrastructure development, curriculum, quality and standards to meet the needs of the markets. If you are not pleasing the market you will not move ahead in the ranking process. As higher education systems grow and diversify, society is increasingly concerned about the quality of programmes, public assessments and international rankings of higher education institutions. The quality of any institution should be judged not by its style and infrastructure but by its extension services, involvement with people and the kind of research that is done which would life the poorer sections from their poverty. There is a craze in the country to get into the top institutions of the globe. However these comparisons tend to overemphasize research, using research performance as a yardstick of institutional value. If these processes fail to address the quality of teaching, it is in part because measuring teaching quality is challenging (Hernard, 2008).

 A big problem with college rankings is they don’t provide a personalized match that considers students criteria and goals, visions and mission of an institution. Choosing a college is a subjective decision that depends on what’s best for you, not an arbitrary popularity contest that magazines decide. In recent times so many magazines and online portals have ventured into the College Ranking business, and one of their biggest take-aways is if the college will place an Advertisement in the said magazines running into few lakhs. Sadly, there are institutions that are given into such scams to be featured. Does this reflect quality? In some of the recent rankings by a particular agency a university moved from Rank 83 to Rank 12 within one year, for me this is a suspicious move. Anyone would be interested to understand this change. Will ranking institutions today make transparent their formula to rank colleges and universities?  The majorities of rankings are sponsored by magazines – and are mainly aimed at increasing their circulation figures – or by other for-profit organizations, who may have flawed methodologies. Professor Gautam Gupta, of the department of economics at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, which is a very famous university, pointed out that college rankings today are not ‘scared’. 

We need colleges and universities that work for social change. Could we begin a paradigm shift for changes in curriculum and pedagogy to meet the needs of society?  Isn’t there a need to shift gears and prepare the young to live meaningful lives than prepare them for mere employment? Markets have no existence apart from society. While markets are necessary, isn’t there a need to replace the global markets with the local? Instead of the markets deciding on the kind of society we all should live, can’t we make society determine the kind of markets we want? If we need to change higher education we need to ask questions about the functions of higher education and ask  ‘whom’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ of higher education and its part in social transformation. The question refers to our policies of admissions, the ‘what’ to the curriculum and wider higher education experience, and the ‘where’ to the social and economic futures of the students. These are crucial questions and they demand answers for an understanding of the social role and quality of higher education.  We need to discuss more and more the role of higher education in local settings than national or global without forgetting the context and contributing to more socially inclusive societies. We need to look at local economies. Colleges and Universities do not exist to prepare a work force for BPOs, multinational and transnational corporations. Education is for social change, to transform individuals into agents of social change. To bring about that change we could begin by challenging our own claims as teachers and professors. Why do we teach, to whom should we teach, how should we teach and what should be the content and context of our teaching?  We need to develop interest in this challenge to avoid all kinds of dogmatism.  Universities are about their societies and their histories. They are not ivory towers. They need to look at the global while being situated at the local.  These are the first questions to be looked into to make institutes of higher education transformative.  

Students who choose college must examine an institution that reflects value, social change and transformative education, since; these come a long way in making an individual successful. Instead of relying on college rankings, you should create your own ranking based on the factors that are important to you. Look for the right college at the right price. Evaluate colleges based on affordability, quality of education, happiness and outcomes.

An Ideal college or University must be ranked by their students, college ranking must be student ranking

Equally important aspect is to realize that higher education is not a vocational education aimed at skills but it is the training of the mind.  Cardinal Newman, in spelling out the goal of universal education, observed that it should produce a ‘gentleman’ with good judgment regarding right and wrong. More recently, Edward Dabono said that education should produce a thinking individual. In the scintillating convocation address to Allahabad University delivered in 1948 Jawaharlal Nehru said: “A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for adventure of ideas, for secret of truth, for onward march of human race towards everlasting goals of life”.  College rankings are often circular in nature. The top-ranked colleges have top rankings because they have strong reputations. They have a strong reputation, in part, because they had a top ranking last year. College is – a 24/7 experience – in which you will grow intellectually, emotionally, socially and maybe even spiritually.  No ratings list covers all these variables.

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