Ratings at a Price for Smaller Universities

Ann McClure's picture

For a certain kind of European, Asian or Latin American institution, the release of the world university rankings each autumn is an exercise in humiliation. Though often long established, and with good local reputations, these schools lack the endowments, research facilities and sheer size needed to compete with U.S. and British powerhouses like Harvard, M.I.T., Cambridge and Stanford.

So when Quacquarelli Symonds, the London-based company behind the QS World University Rankings, announced “a new initiative that gives universities the opportunity to highlight their strength” by paying a fee for the chance to be rated on a scale of one to five stars, the business case was obvious. But so, say critics, was the potential for conflicts of interest. The fees were announced in 2010, though the initiative was not introduced fully until this year.

The University of Limerick in Ireland did not make two other major international rankings — Times Higher Education’s top 400 or Shanghai Jiaotong University’s top 500 — though it was listed as one of T.H.E.’s top 100 new universities.

Yet after paying a one-time audit fee of $9,850 and an annual license fee of $6,850, the University of Limerick is now able to boast that it has been awarded “5-star ratings across the areas of infrastructure, teaching, engagement and internationalization,” according to QS. Its overall ranking was four stars.

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