I’m somewhat suspicious of league tables and rankings – although not suspicious enough to reject them entirely (yet). But however one personally feels about them, it’s impossible, as an academic to escape them. I was thus very interested in reading Howard Hotson’s analysis of the World University Rankings. US universities figure heavily in the world top 20. A quick glance at the rankings might thus suggest that we should adopt the US model to improve our university system. However, Hotson argues that if we take into account such obvious factors as population size, and amount invested into the university system, the data actually reveals the opposite.
The natural interpretation of the World University Rankings flies in the face of the key assumption underpinning current British government policy. Market competition in the United States has driven up tuition fees in the private universities and thereby sucked out the resources needed to sustain good public universities, while diverting a hugely wasteful share of these resources from academic priorities to improving the ‘student experience’ and debasing academic credentials through market-driven grade inflation. The partially privatised university system in the United States is not ‘the best of the best’. In terms of value for money, the British system is far better, and probably the best in the world. Willetts should follow the example of the health secretary, take advantage of a ‘natural break in the legislative process’, and go back to the drawing board.
Thanks to Jonathan for drawing our attention to this article in comments.