Why university rankings matter

Each year, universities across the world are ranked by (inter)national organisations on various criteria and indicators. How valuable are these rankings?

Quite, according to Mariëlle Heijltjes, Professor of Managerial Behaviour, Associate Dean of Strategic Development and Internationalisation and Director of Postgraduate Education of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE).
University-ratings“They are very important, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Heijltjes says. “For prospective students in a competitive field, it can be very confusing to decide where to study, which university is offering what, at what level of quality. Rankings can facilitate their decision making process by giving them an overview of schools or programmes that best match their wishes and expectations.

Not just for prospective students
But the impact of rankings, according to Heijltjes, extends beyond prospective students. “I think it’s about general brand perception when companies look at the rankings. Maybe not in the same detail as a prospective student would, but it gives them an idea of where the university is positioned.”

For graduates, rankings also carry value. “Even if you graduated from Maastricht 20 years ago, when you say your school is high in the rankings it of course has a better ring to it for companies or business partners,” Heijltjes says.

Feedback can drive new initiatives
However, all outcomes from rankings and surveys are looked at closely and carefully considered, she says. “For example, we look at feedback we get on how students and alumni perceive the importance of an international experience during their studies. And if there’s a mismatch in perception of what we think we should be delivering and how it is perceived by the outside world, it can be direct input for redefining the curriculum.”

“We received feedback from previous rankings that our master programme International Business was not as international as we thought we had made it,” Heijltjes says. “So within the scope of one year, we looked at opportunities to make it as international as possible.” These initiatives include a triple exchange in the context of their MSc in International Business and many double degree programmes with partner universities all over the world..

“The advantage to the rankings is visibility, but there are also downsides. The disadvantage is that you are ranked on specific criteria, and not all of the criteria need be of particular relevance to the school.” Nevertheless, rankings can be very useful signals for best practices or for possible areas of improvement in terms of quality assurance. For universities, rankings are key strategic means to communicate to the outside world what they do compared with other universities.”

See also: What can rankings teach us about a school’s value?

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Read more about Prof Mariëlle Heijltjes on the UM Expert Guide.

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