Discourses on quality and quality assurance in higher education from the perspective of global university rankings

Date29 January 2020
Published date29 January 2020
AuthorMaruša Hauptman Komotar
Subject MatterEducation,Curriculum,instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Discourses on quality and quality
assurance in higher education
from the perspective of global
university rankings
Maruša Hauptman Komotar
Alma Mater Europaea Faculty of Humanities,
Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Purpose This paper aims to investigate how global universityrankings interact with quality and quality
assurance in higher education along the two lines of investigation, that is, from the perspective of their
relationship with the concept of quality (assurance) and the development of quality assurance policies in
higher education,with particular emphasis on accreditation as the prevalentquality assurance approach.
Design/methodology/approach The paper rstly conceptualises quality and quality assurance in
higher educationand critically examines the methodological constructionof the four selected world university
rankings and their references to quality. On this basis, it answers the two howquestions: How is the
concept of quality (assurance) in highereducation perceived by world university rankings and how do they
interact withquality assurance and accreditation policiesin higher education? Answers are provided through
the analysis of different documentarysources, such as academic literature, glossaries, internationalstudies,
institutional strategies and other documents, with particular focus on ofcial websites of international
ranking systemsand individual higher education institutions,media announcements, and so on.
Findings The paper argues that given their quantitative orientation, it is quite problematic to perceive world
university rankings as a means of assessing or assuring the institutional quality. Like (international)accreditations,
they may foster vertical differentiation of higher education systems and institutions. Because of their predominant
accountability purpose, they cannot encourageimprovements in the quality of higher education institutions.
Practical implications Research results are benecial to differenthigher education stakeholders (e.g.
policymakers, institutionalleadership, academics and students), as they offer them a comprehensiveview on
rankingsabilityto assess, assure or improve the quality in highereducation.
Originality/value The existing research focuses principally either on interactions of globaluniversity
rankings with the concept of quality or with processes of quality assurance in higher education. The
comprehensiveand detailed analysis of their relationshipwith both concepts thus adds valueto the prevailing
Keywords Global university rankings, Quality, Accreditation, Higher education institutions,
Quality assurance
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In the era of educational globalisation (Kauppi, 2018), global rankings of universities have
become a worldwide phenomenon and have attracted the attention of many stakeholders
inside and outside higher education. While prospective students see them as a guide for
selecting their studies, institutional leadership frequently views international rankings as a
management and a strategic decision-making instrument (Hazelkorn,2012;Hazelkorn et al.,
2014). For governments,they may provide information on the quality of studyprogrammes,
whereas for prot-oriented media,they represent a means of new commercial opportunities
Received26 May 2019
Revised14 October 2019
8 December2019
20December 2019
Accepted21 December 2019
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.28 No. 1, 2020
pp. 78-88
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-05-2019-0055
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