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