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Anyone for a ranking?

The release of the THE World University Reputation Rankings today is yet another opportunity for universities worldwide to put out a press release or post a news story on their websites, hoping to entice more students.  But exactly what role do rankings play in the development of brands and the perception of reputation among potential students?

First, are rankings used?  Among MBAs our latest study, Tomorrow's MBA, showed that 73% of prospective students said they were important or very important in their decision making.  For those considering which business schools to attend the report found that, not surprisingly, those published by the Financial Times and BusinessWeek were the most important.

However, the more surprising finding was the third placed ranking – the Times Higher Education World University Rankings – ahead of the Wall Street Journal and The Economist Intelligence Unit.  This finding tallied with some qualitative research carried out at a UK business schools earlier in 2011.  International students in focus groups regularly mentioned the THE rankings, noting that the university, not the business school, was positioned in the top 300 worldwide.  The business school does not appear in the FT or BusinessWeek rankings.

The students questioned seemed to suggest that so long as the overall university offer was included in the global rankings, was sufficiently high and not falling like a stone year on year, then this was enough for them to investigate further and consider the more particular aspects of the offer at the business school.  On this occasion, one of the main attractors was the location of the business school away from major cities, providing time to focus on learning rather than social distractions.

The research suggests that there is a ranking to suit most needs.  The number of rankings has grown in recent years and continues to do so with many national governments growing data collected about universities, with websites and publications developing their own classifications of universities and business schools.  The growth of the rankings industry is perhaps best illustrated by a private international business school in the UK which found a ranking of CEOs at the top 100 French companies.  The business school discovered that there were more of their alumni in the list than any other business school, producing a rush to the press office to highlight the achievement!

Anyone for a ranking?

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