search Quick Email Signup EPI US Canada



Global Comparison of University League Tables Shows Little Global Agreement on the Meaning of "Quality"; Points to German Model as a Best Practice

February 17, 2006 - A major report on international higher education, released today by the Educational Policy Institute in its report A World of Difference: A Global Comparison of University League Tables, shows that while many countries have tried to emulate US News and World Report's attempt to rank universities, the lack of agreement about what constitutes "quality" in higher education has led to a multiplicity of different - and perhaps conflicting - standards in league tables.


"It's a bit of a problem," said report co-author Massimo Savino. "We know that a lot of students who move from one country to another for higher education - particularly those from China - are choosing institutions based on these rankings. Yet they may not be getting what they think they are getting because the indicators and their evidentiary basis vary so much from country to country."


Other findings of this report include:


  • The Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, often used as an international standard by august publications such as the Economist, are in no way comparable to North American rankings systems such as US News and World Report because they concentrate exclusively on research-production indicators and make no attempt to evaluate instructional quality. This is true generally of Asian-based ranking systems.
  • North American rankings systems (US News and World Report and Maclean's) make the strongest attempt to look directly at educational quality, but a lack of independent data sources means that the quality of the data they use is suspect compared to other rankings systems.
  • Most university "rankings" operate on a "league table" basis, but an analysis of "best practices" among 19 league tables seems to show that, for the purpose of helping students decide on an institution, this is not a very useful approach.

Co-author Alex Usher, Vice-President of the Educational Policy Institute, reserved special praise for the rankings systems developed by the Center for Higher Education Development and published by Die Zeit. "The German system of institutional ranking is nothing short of brilliant," said Mr. Usher. "With the assistance of all universities, it produces high-quality comparative data at the departmental level. Moreover, it does not provide a spurious "overall" ranking. Instead, by making the data publicly available on web-enabled database, it permits each student to examine rank institutions based on the criteria that matter most to them, the student.


The Educational Policy Institute (EPI) is a is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization dedicated to policy-based research on educational opportunity for all students. With offices in Virginia Beach, VA, Toronto, ON, and Melbourne, Australia, EPI is a collective association of researchers and policy analysts from around the world dedicated to the mission of enhancing our knowledge of critical barriers facing students and families throughout the educational pipeline. In addition, EPI has developed extensive partnerships and collaborative arrangements with other leading research and educational organizations, further supporting our mission and ability to conduct policy-relevant research for practical use.


The mission of EPI is to expand educational opportunity for low-income and other historically-underrepresented students through high-level research and analysis. By providing educational leaders and policymakers with the information required to make prudent programmatic and policy decisions, we believe that the doors of opportunity can be further opened for all students, resulting in an increase in the number of students prepared for, enrolled in, and completing postsecondary education. Click here for the full report.

Virginia Beach
2345 Valle Rio Way
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
(540) 288-2322

20 Maud Street, Suite 300
Toronto ON M5V 2M5
+1 416 848-0215

147 Wingrove Street
Fairfield Victoria 3078
+61 (0) 419 514 232