The Times Higher Education World Reputation Ranking (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/worlds-most-prestigious-universities-world-reputation-rankings-2016-results) is a unique piece of research and an interesting tool for students considering their university options. It is the largest ever invitation-only academic opinion study, available in fifteen languages and created in conjunction with United Nations data with the aim of ensuring that research was a representative of global scholarship as possible and spread evenly across academic disciplines. The study was made available only to experienced, published scholars, garnering their opinions on the quality of research and teaching within their discipline, and from institutions they were familiar with. The study was run between January and March 2016, gathered and 10,323 responses from 133 countries, and contained weighted data for underrepresented countries. Published alongside this information was a detailed guide on precisely how the information was collected (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/world-reputation-rankings-2016-methodology).
The results were unsurprising; Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, Stanford and Princeton all made the top ten. These are all large and incredibly wealthy organisations, often with a history dating back hundreds of years, but how much should this matter to prospective undergraduates? As usual, this depends on what your personal goals are. If your intention is just to get a degree and enter an industry where you can make lots of money, then better schools have been shown to have correspondingly higher starting salaries. The quality of teaching and research at each of the schools mentions is also beyond question. However, rankings, no matter how accomplished the people compiling them or sophisticated the sampling techniques, are not a guarantee.
Due to the paradigm shifting financial “reforms” that have taken place at many universities over the last ten years, it is often the case that the best scholars don’t always work at the “best” universities, they work where their contribution is appreciated and their job is safe. Plus, like the rest of us, academics have other concerns, like which cities are vibrant, safe places to bring up children. You, as prospective undergraduates, also have other concerns. Does the university have a large community of international students? Would you be happy if you were the only person there from Hong Kong? Do you want to live on campus? Can you cope with busy overseas cities? Are society activities important to you? Does the university have good work placements and links with industry? Do they have links with overseas universities? It’s often difficult for international students, many of whom can’t make campus visits or go on open days. The temptation is to become overly dependent on league tables and the reputation of a particular university in Hong Kong. Just remember that league tables comprise hard data and cold numbers. You, as a person, which requirements and a future, are far more complex.
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