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Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2020

What does the Shanghai Ranking really measure ?


The notion of higher education as a global market is pervasive among policymakers. Attached to it is the generalization of national and international rankings, supposed to give an “objective” measure of the performances of Higher Education Institutions (HEI), including universities, and justified as necessary to provide guidelines to families and students when making their choices. The deep influence of rankings on the organization of higher edu- cation worldwide, and more generally on how knowledge is created and distributed, has been established. Rankings have however been criticized in academic studies which have pointed out their methodological limitations. In addition, social science analyses suggest that rankings favor the reproduction of elites at a global scale. This paper aims at demonstrating that these later conclusions can be supported empirically. Gathering financial data available publicly for universities, this paper shows that performance as measured by the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, a.k.a. the Shanghai Ranking, the oldest international ranking of HEIs) correlates with wealth of the institutions (expressed in terms of annual budget per student) and with the amount of tuition paid by students. For US institutions, better ranking also correlates with higher income of students parents. Hence, the ARWU ranks economic capital of HEIs and of the families attending these HEIs, in summary, the ARWU ranks “the economic eliteness” HEIs. This supports theoretical analyses which suggest that international rankings of universities consolidate the domination of economic elites at a global scale, and favor social exclusion. In addition, by promoting a model of higher education with high tuition fees, the ARWU likely contributes to the expansion of the student debt.


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hal-02918290 , version 1 (20-08-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02918290 , version 1


Olivier Berne. What does the Shanghai Ranking really measure ?: Working paper. 2020. ⟨hal-02918290⟩
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