Earlier this month, QS published its annual World University Rankings by Subject, spurring excitement across academic social media. “Thrilled to be part of the world’s No. 1,” said a faculty member. “Proud alumna and staff member,” wrote another. “So proud to be part of the team. Well done everyone”… And so on. You get the picture.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with people liking their job and enjoying working in a stimulating environment. There is, however, something unsettling about scholars taking things like a ranking produced by QS, Shanghai, or whichever organization, as confirmation, or evidence, of how good—or bad for that matter—they are having it as compared to everyone else.
One may wonder, do scholars respond to rankings in this way because they are just carried away in the moment? Or because they take rankings seriously? Or is it, perhaps, something else?
To be clear from the start, my intention here is not to criticise rankings. At least not in the way this is usually done. In this sense, this is not a story about rankings’ flawed methodologies or their adverse effects, about how some rankings are produced for making profit, or about how opaque or poorly governed they are. None of that matters here.
One may wonder, do scholars respond to rankings in this way because they are just carried away in the moment?