University rankings: A sinister plot for world domination

University rankings are all the rage, but students choosing a place to study should pay little attention them.

Prestigious Australian universities love to brag about their university rankings. Don’t get sucked in. University rankings tell you very little about the quality of the degrees on offer.

In fact, university rankings are part of a communist plot to take over the world. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.


The sinister truth about uni rankings

The Chinese Government was jealous of the United States. The USA has the best scientists, who have developed things like long-range nuclear weapons, the space shuttle and the jet-powered surfboard.

To catch up to the USA, the Chinese Government initiated ‘Project 211’, a master plan to build 100 first class universities. But a pair of Chinese academics realised this would be a very difficult task. So they devised a university ranking system to show the Chinese Government how far behind their universities were.

The result is the Academic Ranking of World Universities – the most prestigious university ranking system in the world. This was the first of many ranking systems that turned the academic world into a veritable football competition – now almost every Vice Chancellor wants their university to finish on top ladder at the end of the season.

High rankings are important because they attract students. More bums on seats means more money. Especially if those bums belong to international students who pay big fees.


Rankings are useless and universities know this

Rankings have little to do with teaching quality. Rankings are mostly based on the RESEARCH output of each university.

The universities know rankings are useless. This is what Australia’s most prestigious universities say about rankings:

“All of the rankings are deficient methodologically, and some are seriously flawed.”

But that’s not all:

“…regrettably, when institutions have looked good on the rankings they have made unashamed marketing use of them, even where they know at least some of them to be questionable.”

These are extracts from a 2012 document produced by the Group of Eight, the body representing Australia’s most prestigious universities.

Despite knowing they’re flawed, universities constantly use rankings to market themselves. This is what the University of Melbourne’s homepage looked like the day after Times released it’s 2014 rankings:

UniMelb Homepage Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.09.10 am

But surely its better to go to a university with the best researchers and academics!?

Nope. Incorrect. The universities that produce the best research don’t always have the best quality teaching. Here’s why:

  • Just because someone’s a hotshot researcher doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher. Academics are often much better at doing research than they are communicating with students. Some of them are positively dreadful at teaching. They’re usually specialist nerds, not specialist teachers.
  • Most of the teaching in Australia isn’t done by the hotshot academics. It’s much cheaper for universities to employ casual teachers to do the teaching. Why? Because you don’t have to pay casual staff during university holidays. Besides, universities prefer to let the hotshot researchers concentrate on what they do best: research.
  • Some of the best teaching happens at low ranking, less prestigious universities. This suggests some universities prioritise research over teaching quality.

But wait, there’s more:

  • A 1992 study found that, in general, the better a university is at research the worse it is at teaching. This was supported by a 2012 study which reached similar conclusions. It’s further evidence that university rankings, which are based on research activity, are not a useful way to choose a university.
  • High ranking Australian universities usually receive worse student feedback than less prestigious universities. This has happened for many years.


Which is the best teaching university in Australia?

There is whole separate post about this issue.  Maybe you should go and read it.