How Do Universities Stand Out: 2021/22

Whilst contradictory in nature, a university’s goal is to make themselves both top of mind, or central, and distinctive in the sector in order to stand out. Understanding and ultimately influencing its brand perception is the way an institution can accomplish this.

Considering brands, Coca-Cola (in soft drinks) and McDonald’s (in fast food) are demonstrative examples of centrality – the first ones that come to mind in a large pool of comparable brands. On the other hand, brands high in distinctiveness are recognised for their uniqueness and rarely have direct rivalry with other relevant industry brands. Tesla (in automotive) is a prime example of this.

The World 100 Research Project for 2021/22 aims to explore how the brand positioning of a university, from a centrality-distinctiveness perspective, can be influenced.

A challenge faced by higher education sector is setting one’s institution apart in a crowded industry that is fiercely competitive. This project will critically analyse the brand positioning of universities and the interplay of reputation, ranking and pricing in the mix. Key elements of the research include surveying crucial international stakeholders such as prospective students and academics, and collecting view from institutional reputation leaders globally.

To help us cater reports to W100 members, we invite reputation leaders to participate by filling out the survey below (only one response per university required). These additional views will allow for further, tailored analysis. The survey will close early September 2022, and the final report will be released in October 2022.

Share your views

The research, which is taking place between June and October 2022, aims to explore several key questions: 

  • What makes a university distinctive, and how does it stand out from others? Do universities that are considered more distinctive have better overall reputation?
  • Does brand awareness impact reputation? Could how well-known a university is factor into a judgement of institutional reputation?
  • What are the factors that influence the cost of tuition? Do higher ranked universities garner higher tuition, or could a higher rank justify a tuition fee price premium?

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


Taking the Temperature of COVID-19

COVID-19: Taking the Temperature of the Crisis

COVID-19 has tested every university in ways that would have been unimaginable at the end of 2019. This has been the ultimate reputation test, and the World 100 Reputation Network was keen to chart the journey as best we can, to shed light on the challenges for reputation leaders in a unique time.

Last year we asked 10 quick questions of leading global universities (ranked in the top 200 of the world rankings) around managing the crisis of COVID-19 and their reputations. The longitudinal survey began in March 2020 and aimed to show the development of the crisis in terms of pandemic communications, university reputation and various other factors. 

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we invited universities to think about the same questions to reflect on what’s happening now compared to six months ago. The survey ran in June 2021.

Data from the most recent survey is available below in an interactive dashboard. You can also visit our webinar page to explore the online sessions we hosted to explore the data from earlier waves of the study in more detail with industry experts.

Quote from an Australasian University

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The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


2020/21 research project

The Reputation Opportunity: 2020/21

The pandemic has highlighted the role of universities and academic research as a key contributor to society as never before. But have institutions been able to gain a reputation advantage from research they have shared during the period? 

The World 100 research project for 2020/2021 explored how universities have used the visibility of COVID-19 research to build profile.

Key elements of the research included undertaking public polling in a number of countries, surveying global academics, and collecting research evidence from around the globe. 

We also explore the experiences of W100 members – and particularly those teams involved with promoting research – to understand your experiences during the pandemic. 

The research also included interviewing media relations and research promotion leads. 

View the download below

The research, which took place between July and October 2021 aimed to explore three key questions: 

  • How well do key audiences understand the role of universities in supporting Covid-related scholarship – epidemiology, treatments, vaccines, behavioral psychology, economic impacts/recovery? 
  • Has the visibility of high-profile academics translated into reputational benefits for their universities? 
  • What’s the impact of negative views of science or COVID-19 related research during pandemic (herd immunity, anti-lockdown feeling) on universities? 

A few key findings

Research Downloads:

Available to Members Only

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PDF The Reputation Opportunity 20/21-  Full Report

PDF The Reputation Opportunity 20/21-  Executive Summary

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


International Tracker_Research

International Reputation Tracker

The Pilot Year

The 2019/20 membership year was the Year 0 pilot year for the International Reputation Tracker. All members were invited to take part in the Tracker as the main annual research project for the year.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic caused us some difficulties along the way – but several members were able to successfully engage their staff, students and alumni with the Tracker surveys. Thank you to all who have contributed.

What did the pilot project include?

Following the model of the UK Reputation Tracker, the International version included surveys for three internal audiences (staff, students and alumni) and two external audiences (international education agents and prospective international students).

In addition, secondary metrices are:

  • Social media KPIs for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube
  • International postgraduate degree pricing for four subject areas – Law, Medicine, Engineering and MBA
  • International media monitoring from the W100 Aurora tool
  • Rankings

Resources and Structures for Reputation Management

As several members told us they were keen to be able to benchmark spend and resourcing for reputation management, we explored the idea of incorporating a resources and structures audit into the International Tracker. Members, and other world 200 ranked universities, were invited to complete the audit over the summer.

Unlike other areas of the Tracker, this data will be reported anonymously.

Year 1

Having reflected on the pilot Year 0, we are launching the 2021 International Tracker which will run alongside National Trackers.

The International Reputation Tracker includes primary research with prospective international students, international education agents and academics working at top universities around the world as well as global secondary data. It can also incorporate surveys with current students, staff and alumni at your own institution, benchmarked against internal surveys at other Tracker members.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Lisa at l.bould@theworld100.com

Login to the Dashboard

The Dashboard brings together the data from all elements of the International Reputation Tracker. Click below to login. You will be prompted to enter a username and password. We have emailed main W100 contacts with their login information, if you don’t have this, please contact l.bould@theworld100.com

Login

As presented at our virtual conference

The W100 annual conference ran a virtual week-long festival of reputation between 2-6 November.

We presented on the outcomes of the International Reputation Tracker pilot during the event. W100 members have access to the presentation on-demand for this year.

Click here to read more about the conference


resources and structures

Resources and Structures 2020

University communications, marketing, and international teams have been at the forefront of their institutions’ responses to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.  But do you feel that you have enough resources and the right structures to meet the challenge?

The World 100 Reputation Network, the only group for leaders in reputation management at top global universities, is undertaking a survey to uncover what is being spent on reputation, and how the activities are structured.

We invited 400 of the best-ranked universities in the world to take part. 

Supports budgetary requests with real data
Provides global KPIs to build into your own strategy
Provides insights for staff restructures

All results will be anonymised. 
Please note: This survey is intended to be answered by the person with the most senior role in reputation management at your university

Respondents of the survey can compare their university’s results on:

  • Reputation staff numbers (crisis communications, brand, marketing, rankings, international etc)
  • Operational budget
  • Salaries for senior reputation leaders
  • Key performance indicator
  • Trend data - developments in spending on university reputation

What will you receive?

For every university that answers the survey, we will send you a report of the findings, so that you can benchmark the amount you spend on reputation and the way your structure your teams against other world-class universities.

Resources and Structures survey 2020

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


Taking the Temperature of COVID-19

COVID-19: Taking the Temperature of the Crisis

COVID-19 has tested every university in ways that would have been unimaginable at the end of 2019. This has been the ultimate reputation test, and the World 100 Reputation Network was keen to chart the journey as best we can, to shed light on the challenges for reputation leaders in a unique time.

Last year we asked 10 quick questions of leading global universities (ranked in the top 200 of the world rankings) around managing the crisis of COVID-19 and their reputations. The longitudinal survey began in March 2020 and aimed to show the development of the crisis in terms of pandemic communications, university reputation and various other factors. 

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we invited universities to think about the same questions to reflect on what’s happening now compared to six months ago. The survey ran in June 2021 and is now closed. The dashboard below will be updated shortly.

2020 data from the survey is available below in an interactive dashboard. You can also visit our webinar page to explore the online sessions we hosted to explore the data in more detail with industry experts.

Quote from an Australasian University

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


Riding the Tiger: Enhancings the role of reputation in International Partnerships research project

Riding the Tiger: 2018/19

International partnerships between universities have traditionally been forged around student mobility, research collaborations, networks, and recruitment progression routes, which are determined by a range of factors (academic, financial etc.). However, the role of reputation in partnerships, and in particular those that universities describe as ‘strategic’, has not been comprehensively researched. The Word 100 Reputation Network has for the past decade and more undertaken annual research projects to push the boundaries of the understanding of reputation in global high education.

Our 2018/2019 Research project aimed to answer some key questions around the role of reputation in international partnerships. Who is responsible within institutions for the development and promotion of partnerships? What are the keys to successful working relationships amongst internal stakeholders? How effectively are universities using international partnerships to enhance their institutional brand and global profile and how prepared are they for any negative reputational changes their partners might encounter?

In consultation with World 100 members, we created an online survey tool to explore the role of reputation in international partnerships. The survey was designed to be completed by senior colleagues working in both communications and marketing and international/global affairs at top universities around the world. The two routes largely mirrored one another with slight variations to assess the current and perceived ideal level of support from corporate communications team in the development and promotion of international partnerships.

Between April and June of 2019 we invited directors of both functions at universities in the world’s top 200 (based on ranking in each of the four major world rankings used for Network membership eligibility – THE, QS, ARWU and US News and World Report), including those ranked as the top young universities.

Survey Topics

  • Responsibility for international partnerships
  • Reputation and partner appeal
  • The importance of reputation when developing new international partnerships
  • Rankings
  • Using partnerships to build global profile
  • Identifying international partnerships with the greatest potential for reputational impact
  • Indicators of reputational value
  • Checklists
  • Measuring success and assessing brand value
  • The impact of negative changes to reputation
  • Collaboration between communications and international/global affairs
  • Identifying strategic partners
  • Communications strategies

A few key findings

When we look for international partners,
We always look at their reputation

The final report from the research, Riding the Tiger: Enhancing the Role of Reputation in International Partnerships, was published in November 2019.  Members of the W100 Network can access the report from the news and resources page. A summary of the report is available to non-Members that filled in the survey.

The research also formed the basis of a webinar giving members an exclusive opportunity to share experiences and delve deeper into the research findings.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


brand snapshot research

Brand Snapshot: 2017/18

Our 2017/18 research project, Brand Snapshot, reviewed the online brand profile of the best universities in the world – the top 50 in the world in all four main global rankings, plus W100 members and nominated peers.

Universities are putting more energy and thought into expressing their brand position as they compete for research funding, top students, and world-class academics. But there is a very weak understanding of brand difference or any formal impact assessment in the higher education sector other than via the rankings. As websites are one of the main ways audiences interact with universities and universities articulate their ‘brand’, our research project looked at brands online.

Each university was assessed by two independent analysts on key brand attributes between January and June 2018.

The research found that top universities really struggle to look or sound different when their websites are compared. 50 universities use the same or similar shades of blue, and the best online brands are not necessarily the highest ranked.

The project analysed the websites of 100 global institutions, finding that they adopted the same language, with phrases like ‘world impact’ and ‘challenging’ being repeated regularly.

“In such a competitive higher education world, universities have a long way to go in engaging the busy reader who looks at their website,” said Louise Simpson, Director of the World 100 Reputation Network. “Too many of them look and sound the same, and can’t explain what it is that makes them special. They really need to be much bolder both in the way they communicate, and in what they communicate. Good branding requires both creativity and decisiveness!”

Hypotheses to be Tested

• Student brands are better articulated than research brands.
• Brand propositions are not well differentiated between world top-ranked
universities; brand assets are similar among world top-ranked universities
• Brands are separated out between research, study and international, rather than
offered as an integrated expression of the whole university.
• There is no correlation between a high ranked university and a university with a
strong brand impact.

Our analysts looked at and assessed:

  • First impressions – this included analysis of the logo, homepage design, use of images
    consistency of design and initial content of homepage
  • News brand – analysts looked for how up-to-date the news is, how engaging it is, how it is
    presented and the balance of content
  • Student brand – analysts looked for distinctiveness, prominence on the website and how
    well the students’ voice is represented on the website
  • Research brand – analysts looked for distinctiveness, prominence on the website and how
    well the academics’ voice is represented on the website
  • International brand – analysis of international activities and presence including strong
    international partnerships which can back up claims of being global
  • City/location band – analysts looked at the extent to which the location of the university
    is used as a brand asset
  • Partnerships –evidence of productive, fruitful strategic partnerships
  • Institutional brand – recording straplines, campaigns, main messages and reputational
    claims the university makes
  • Social media – analysts looked at how consistent the social media brand is with the
    website brand

A few key findings

Fifty Shades of Blue:
Global universities struggle to look or sound distinctive

The Brand Snapshot research revealed:

Very few employed the techniques of brand campaigns that commercial companies use to clarify their points of difference or engage consumers with humour or succinct messages.

Those that appeared most distinctive were prepared to say what they were really focused on, with engaging story-telling, and strong visual and personalised approaches. Such as Helsinki, with its powerful public engagement campaigns and its revolutionary Think Corner, or Manchester, with five ‘research beacons’ of excellence.

North American institutions were less good at explaining their global presence or international offerings. Asian universities tended to have formal approaches to language and old-fashioned designs. Across all continents, universities relied on long lists of rankings or partnerships to justify their brand, rather than explain what they were really good at.

The top 25 online university brands in the W100 study were dominated by universities from the English-speaking world, such as MelbourneIllinois, UBCBirmingham and Queen’s Belfast; Keio University (Japan) stood out among Asian global universities; and GroningenHelsinkiAarhus and Karolinska were the European online brand leaders.

The final report from the research, is available for members of the W100 Network via news and resources page.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


The Ranking Influencers: How academics and employers determine the best universities

The Ranking Influencers: 2016/17

Academics and universities know that data matters when it comes to world university rankings. As a result, tremendous effort goes into getting research in the right journals and maximizing citations. However, what is sometimes forgotten is that the biggest indicator of ranking is reputation, i.e. the opinion of published scholars and employers. This actually forms a third of the final THE score and half of the QS score. Thousands of academics and employers from across the globe determine which universities are the best in their fields. How do they make their choices?

Our 2016/2017 Research project aimed to explore how academics and employers vote, their influence and its impact on university reputation by answering the following key questions: What influences academics, professional staff and employers to consider their nominated universities to be the absolute best of a world-class elite group? How readily could their perceptions be altered year to year? And ultimately, what can those in charge of universities’ reputation management do to put their institutions in the spotlight for these audiences?

We employed both quantitative and qualitative research methods, using a global online survey of academic faculty and professional staff working at top universities, qualitative interviews with academic faculty at global universities and a global online survey of employers to inform the research. In total, 103 universities, and their faculty/staff, across 30 countries contributed to this research by way of facilitation, interview or survey completion.

The research found that whilst many academics see the rankings as fundamentally flawed, the rankings are the first place most go to get a feel for a university’s reputation or see how they their own institution is performing.

What the research explored:

  • Understanding the ranking surveys
  • How much does reputation matter?
  • Hallmarks of strong university reputation and the influencing factors
  • The importance of individuals
  • The best universities and the factors considered
  • General view and usage of world rankings
  • Awareness, trust, participation and individual elements of the reputation surveys in world rankings
  • Catching attention and how universities that are unknown to an academic can be noticed
  • Which groups influence the influencers
  • Ranking influence and gaming of the results through recommendations
  • Current practice when it comes to ranking strategies

A few key findings

When nominating universities in the rankings, personal connections are important for establishing reputation

The final report from the research, The Ranking Influencers: How Academics and Employers Determine the Best Universities, was published in November 2017.  Members of the W100 Network can access the report from the news and resources page. A summary of the report is available to non-Members that filled in the survey.

The research also formed the basis of a presentation given at several national and international conferences, and it has been referenced by universities globally to inform decision-making within marketing and communications.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


The Digital Approach Research

The Digital Approach: 2017/18

Digital communications is essential for all global organizations but critical for those aimed at young people. In addition to our annual research project for W100 members, the World 100 set out to explore approaches to online communications at top global universities. The research explores budgets, teams, in-house capacity, outsourcing, approaches to monitoring and evaluating digital communications, policies and guidelines, internal training and more – everything that covers their digital approach.

The survey was developed in conjunction with digital communications representatives from seven leading global universities in the UK, Europe and North America. The research findings are based on survey responses from heads of digital at 37 universities across 15 countries.

The research indicates that digital is a highly important, and increasingly intrinsic part of communications in universities. Most communications will be digital communications in the future, so teams are less likely to be separate from the rest of communications and marketing or even have digital in their job title, as everyone will be ‘digital’. However, there is probably a generational disconnect, with senior leaders being less familiar with using digital (especially twitter) than younger managers.

The research covers:

  • Team size and structure
  • Non-central digital communications
  • Responsibility for digital communications
  • Twitter communications
  • In-house capacity and outsourcing
  • Strategies for digital communications
  • Resourcing, budget and salaries
  • Intranets
  • Rating digital communication activities
  • Training for digital communications
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Challenges and the future
  • Identifying best practice

A few key findings

'Digital communication' will become 'communication'. There will be no difference.

The final version of the report from the research, The Digital Approach: Resources and structures for online communications, was published in June 2017. It is availble to members via the news and resources page.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


The R-Word 2015/16: Research communications at world-class universities

The R-Word: 2015/16

Excellent universities are defined by excellent research, and one of the main skills of those who direct reputation is to make this research accessible, and as widely read as possible. For our World 100 research project 2015/16, The R-Word, we explored best practice in communicating research to public audiences, so that it is effective, impactful and reflective of the excellence of the institution.

Strategies for impactful research communications was the focus of this project, which is comprised of three individual reports. Qualitative interviews, either in person or via an online survey, with senior research communicators in 29 universities across 13 countries inform the main report. In addition, senior-level staff within research offices of the same universities were consulted for comparative views and opinions. The main report is complemented by a review of social media guidelines for staff at 63 universities ranked in the world’s top 100 (THE, QS, ARWU and US News & World Report) in Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA to monitor/manage social media usage. The third report includes insights from over 1,500 research articles analysed as part of our Aurora international media benchmarking tool and a series of case studies exploring individual university approaches.

The qualitative research found that the ‘newsworthiness’ of research stories stems from research that is demonstrating impact, that changes in how we consume media have had a profound effect on how research news is communicated and how resources should be managed to engage the large range of key audiences receiving research communications.

The approach to social media guidelines varies from university to university, however some very clear best practice key themes emerged, including how to ensure brand consistency and upskill non-specialist staff to maximise effectiveness.

The review of research stories that were published by major international news broadcasters shows that there are some marked discrepancies between identified best practice and reality.

We set out to explore the following:

  • How is newsworthy research identified?
  • Do communications directors and research directors agree on which research at the university should be promoted? Is there a shared view of key audiences and desired impact? How do their approaches differ? And how do they measure success?
  • What is the relationship dynamic between communications teams and directors of research?
  • What makes a great research news story?
  • Is a focused approach on a few global strengths better than a diverse and inclusive approach to
    research promotion?
  • How are world-class universities communicating research online in innovative ways?
  • How have national policies on identifying research impact changed universities’ approaches to communicating research?
  • Do universities look to policy and practice in other countries to improve the impact of their research communications?

A few key findings

A research story is thought to be newsworthy if it can demonstrate ‘impact’

The final versions of the report from the research, The R-Word: Communicating Research at World-Class Universities, were published in December 2016. Members of the W100 Network can access the three full reports from the news and resources page.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more


Reputation Management 2014/15: Priorities, structures and resources in world-class universities

Reputation Management: 2014/15

The 2014/15 annual research project returns to the topic of resources and structures for reputation management in the world’s best universities. We first visited this topic in the early days of the World 100 Reputation Network, back in 2008, sending out surveys to the most senior people in communications and marketing, and those managing international offices. Back in 2008, there wasn’t really any social media, ‘internet of things’, blogs or citizen journalism, and rankings were pretty new.

How has the passage of time along with innovations in approaches to international relations, the rise of social media and the development of global rankings affected top tier universities’ approaches to prioritising and resourcing reputation management? Have all these innovations and technologies affected the size, style or seniority of teams, and made reputation management more strategic, or better funded? The research reports explore the findings from our surveys of 47 directors of communications and marketing and 22 international directors in world-class global universities spanning 18 countries.

Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used, with the research consisting of recorded video interviews with senior Directors from top global universities, qualitative interviews with senior directors on international, marketing and communications to form a series of case studies, and online surveys for the same groups to share their views.

The first main report includes the finding from surveying Directors of Communications and Marketing, whilst the second report focuses on the surveying of Directors of International, with reference to the first benchmarking of these directors’ roles back in 2008 throughout.

Senior Directors were asked about:

  • The activities the lead is responsible for
  • The size of the main central communications department and number of other staff with a communications, PR or marketing role
  • If the University has a communications strategy and its relationship with the University strategy
  • The University's top communications priorities
  • How important and well-resourced communications is in the University
  • Annual income of the University
  • Salary of the lead comms professional
  • Annual budget for university communications
  • Stakeholder groups that have the most influential opinions
  • Methods for evaluating or benchmarking communications
  • Characteristics most important for a university's reputation
  • The biggest challenges faced in terms of enhancing the University's reputation

A few key findings

As reputation management grows in importance, so does influence

The final version of the reports from the research, Reputation Management: Priorities, structures and resources in world-class universities, were published in February 2016. Members of the W100 Network can access the reports, which include one summary and two main reports, from the news and resources page, plus those involved in the research can also download their individual reports.

Become a Member

The World 100 Reputation Network is a group of the best universities in the world, delivering research that enhances reputation and offering leaders the chance to develop their own careers on a global stage. Members benefit from events and study tours, training, monthly media monitoring, and unique reputation research to provide institutional advantage.

find out more