How to read the Shanghai Ranking

In the Shanghai Ranking 2021 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects, Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University Rotterdam, ranked #1 in Business Administration. We spoke to Wilfred Mijnhardt, Policy Director at RSM, to learn more about the Shanghai Ranking, how university rankings bring value to students, and tips for students on how to read university rankings.

In short

What is the Shanghai Ranking?

The Shanghai Ranking (also known as The Academic Ranking of World Universities) is an annual publication of world university rankings.

Wilfred tells us, “Shanghai [Rankings] is one of the older rankings and a more established ranking, which is pretty much research-based. A lot of the indicators of the Shanghai Ranking are related to the research performance of the institutions.” (00:22)

Since 2009, Shanghai Ranking has published an annual Global Ranking of Academic Subjects, which ranks universities by academic subjects. The criteria in this ranking include research output, research influence, international collaboration, research quality, and international academic awards.

By evaluating universities per subject, Wilfred says, “Applicants get much more rich information in [this] field level than on the generic university level because fields often perform much better than the overall university…So every university has its unique features and fields, and this is of huge value for prospects and external stakeholders to see where the real power of an institution is.” (00:53)

Get early access to the latest research: Why RSM Erasmus University ranks #1 in Business Administration

In the Shanghai Ranking 2021 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects, Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University Rotterdam, ranked #1 in Business Administration.

Wilfred attributes RSM’s #1 ranking to the school’s long-term dedication to research and knowledge production.

“We have, for the last 20 years, invested constantly and very structurally in developing [a] research culture in my school,” he explains. “That has been a strategic choice, and we still continue to focus on that because we want to be a premium knowledge-producing institution…So you see the long-term investment in knowledge culture pays off after so many years.” (05:07)

Wilfred also emphasizes that this top ranking benefits all education programs in an institution. “Master’s programs [at RSM] are directly related to the newest research,” he says. “So doing a master’s at RSM means you get early entry to the newest knowledge.” (06:34)

How university rankings bring value to your career and reputation

Students who are committed to choosing the right school pay close attention to university rankings.

“As a future graduate, of course you want to have good value for money,” Wilfred states. “I look at the rankings as investment funds for reputation. So imagine you’ve graduated [from] your university [and] you see that during your career, your university raises its reputation and its standing in the rankings – it makes you as a graduate more proud if your alma mater is raising its reputation [because] it also raises your value. So it’s more like a strategic investment in an institution.” (06:52)

Studying at a top school like RSM, which has a flourishing “knowledge ecosystem [and] a good culture where the teaching faculty is all research-active [and] you have direct access to the research,” will only boost your career and allow you to distinguish yourself on the labor market. (07:38)

The Shanghai Ranking can come in particularly handy for Asian students or students thinking about working in Asia. “In China, the recruiters look at your [school’s] Shanghai Ranking position,” Wilfred tells us. “So more and more, your institution’s ranking will be an important value in the labor market and in the selective processes of larger companies. So it becomes more and more a business value.” (08:43)

More than just a number on a list: How to read university rankings

While it may be tempting to simply scroll through a rankings list to eye the top schools, Wilfred suggests that students analyze a school’s long-term position.

“Always read the rankings in a longer-term perspective,” he says. “If you look at the most recent five years – and they often have these nice tables of multiple years on their websites – there you see consistent behavior [and] consistent performance, and that gives a sense of trustworthiness and I think students can easily look at that sense of trustworthiness because that is also a promise for the future.” (09:25)

“A ranking is a performance measure of a long-term pattern in the performance,” Wilfred adds. (10:08) Beyond simply checking a school’s output (e.g. number of publications), Wilfred also recommends students focus on “recognition elements” like citations and awards. By looking at these recognition elements, you can get a better sense of how the school’s reputation has grown over past years.

Impact is also becoming a more important factor that students look at. How engaged is this school with the Sustainable Development Goals, for example? How responsible is this institution? “I think more qualitative, responsible, impact-driven performance of a university must be appealing for a prospect to see – that this university is much richer than just counting beans of publications, right? I think that is where the main value is,” Wilfred says. (11:34)

If you’d like to hear more interesting insights about higher education from Wilfred, you can follow him on Twitter @wmijnhardt.

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