International university rankings matter. Whatever your personal opinion, whether you love or hate them, their prominence and influence continues to grow.
Rankings are increasingly valued by prospective students and their families when looking to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of particular universities prior to application. Policymakers and “other stakeholders” such as university administrators are said to use them to review institutional performance and it is claimed (HEPI 2016, p.9) that universities also find them useful from an international benchmarking perspective.
It can be argued that they generally are a good indicator of world class practice – in research and in teaching. After all, it isn’t by accident that the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich and Imperial College London perennially feature in the upper echelons of THE World University Rankings, the ARWU ‘Shanghai’ Academic Ranking of World Universities and the QS World University Rankings - the major international rankings.
Rankings are an imperfect indicator of excellence
Despite this, there is an increasingly widespread view that international university rankings are an imperfect indicator of excellence (see for example HEPI, 2016). Experience shows that teaching quality is difficult to measure and this becomes even more challenging when seeking to make comparisons on an international basis.
Even Phil Baty, Editorial Director of Times Higher Education’s global rankings admits: “They’re (THE World University rankings)…a fantastic way of highlighting excellence in global higher education…but it’s fair to say that the rankings are really focused on research excellence.”
How should teaching excellence be measured?
The way in which current international university rankings are constructed means that institutions that are world class in teaching may not always get the global credit they deserve. It is for this reason that the HEA developed the Global Teaching Excellence Award (GTEA), with its criteria focusing on ‘three domains’ that we know to be essential, with regard to improving the student learning experience and teaching excellence:
- Excellence in the leadership of teaching and learning
- Excellence in teaching
- Excellence in student support.
A chance for the unsung heroes to shine
GTEA recognises and rewards institutional commitment to teaching excellence, practical application and performance ‘on the ground’ and demonstrable impact through student success. Of course, prestigious and high-ranked institutions can and do excel. Indeed a number of the GTEA 2017 finalists feature prominently within the THE World University Rankings, including UCL, Monash, Utrecht and McMaster.
GTEA, however, also levels the playing field and presents a great opportunity for the ‘unsung heroes’ - the institutions that do not regularly stand out in the overall rankings. As THE’s Baty says:
“These awards are a great opportunity to help these institutions shine out and be recognised for teaching excellence whereas the rankings might not always capture that.”
Global excellence in teaching is not dependent on a high ranking
That is why the winner of GTEA 2017, University of Huddersfield (modestly ranked in the 601-800 bracket in THE World University Rankings 2018) can justifiably claim to be among the world’s best in terms of teaching excellence. Their 2017 winning entry demonstrated a clear strategy and outstanding leadership allied to coherent and impactful pedagogical practice and student support at all levels.
Does your institution’s teaching excellence deserve to be celebrated in 2018?
Just like the University of Huddersfield and our 26 finalists in 2017, there are many institutions whose commitment to teaching excellence ought to be rewarded. You may work for one. If so, now is the time for your institution to gain the recognition it deserves. The deadline for applying has been extended to 18 February 2018. Request the applicant guidelines and start planning your entry right now: www.heacademy.ac.uk/GTEA
Dr Mark Jones
Chief Operating Officer, Higher Education Academy