Reputation and World University Rankings

Posted on Nov 14, 2013

Posted Thursday 7 March 2013

Louise Simpson, Director of The World 100 Reputation Network and an expert in Reputation Management, has been asked to comment, in an article in this week’s Times Higher Education, on the release of the THE’s 2013 World University Rankings.

Remarking on the stability of those at the top of the rankings, she said “We shouldn’t be surprised that the most highly regarded universities don’t change over time, as reputation is reflective in higher education, much more so than fast moving consumer goods or Hollywood. Reputation is like a super tanker, and pretty hard to turnaround unless you do something very wrong. From our World 100 research we know academics look back at the past rankings, and carry them around in their heads, and that partly forms their impression of reputation in next year’s rankings.

“These six uber universities are the ones people want to believe are the best, they are well visited, very rich, and beautiful to look at. It is also no accident they are all in the US and UK, which still dominate higher education as well as politics and creative arts, and so there is an element of people voting for worlds which they find comfortable. People want their kids to go to there, or get jobs there themselves, because they are the most admired (whether they are in fact the best or not…). Even academics, who prefer citations as evidence of academic excellence, want to work at a university that leverages their own personal brand, by attracting top donations and prestigious partners. They know reputation transcends hard data, it’s an index of loyalty. If you are loyal, you like to stay loyal, and often overlook evidence to the contrary.

“So the top six universities are like the most beautiful cities in the world, reputable even if they have failing sewers, arrogant mayors and dodgy no go areas. A folklore builds up around them, as does money and fans. People are as likely to say Rome is not one of the most beautiful cities in the world as they are to stop venerating these top-brand universities.”

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